Ellie Snook digging balls at a furious pace and Genevieve Florig playing big at the net are two reasons the surging Portland State volleyball team has emerged as a contender in the Big Sky Conference.
Snook, from West Linn, and Florig, a Sunset High grad, each has been recognized this season as the Big Sky defensive player of the week. Snook, the reigning Big Sky libero of the year, was honored three times during the recent seven-match win streak, a run that has the Vikings in second place at 8-2 in conference play after a significant Oct. 23 win over Northern Colorado at the Viking Pavilion.
In that win, Snook made 21 more digs and Florig had a match-high six blocks.
"The individual awards are really cool, but I would not be getting those without the wins and without my teammates," Snook said.
When she's been so recognized, Snook tells her teammates it's their turn to produce an award-worthy performance, an example of the competitiveness throughout the Viking squad.
"We're trying to motivate each other to keep getting those things, and when you're motivated to do that, you're going to do it in a game and that's when we're getting success."
Snook's role in the Vikings' success can be measured by her 422 digs through 78 sets this season, 5.41 per set.
A year after COVID-19 delayed the season and kept the gym and weight room off limits for months, Snook said she and her teammates are enjoying even the regular weight-training sessions.
"I've gotten a lot stronger, and it's definitely reflected in my volleyball game," Snook said. "Last year, I felt like I never really got into the swing of things. Everything feels a lot more normal, and I feel like I'm playing more at the level I would expect myself to be playing."
Portland State coach Michael Seemann points to Snook's knack for reading the opponent, be it serves or attacks.
"She's really good at reading attackers and then I think quick and athletic enough to make a lot of those plays, which makes for a total package when it comes to ball handling," Seemann said.
Her consistency means her teammates trust that Snook will get to balls, so they give her the space to make plays.
"We've definitely given her a lot of free rein in terms of making adjustments in serve receive based on what she sees in the serving aspect," Seemann said. "And I think that combination has given her the freedom and to be super aggressive, and therefore I think also very confident."
Part of Snook's success is her ability to make plays when things are out of whack.
"When I really need her and our setters to communicate, she does a very good job of that, managing out-of-system system plays," Seemann said. "I know it sounds crazy, but she also could be a pretty tremendous setter if you ask me, the way she leads and also the way she delivers the ball."
Florig, a 6-foot-1 middle blocker, delivers beyond her team-leading 1.04 blocks per set or her 86 kills.
In her sixth year of college and studying for her MBA, the 2015 Sunset High grad filled a position of need this summer when she joined the Vikings after playing three seasons in five years at Connecticut, where she graduated with a masters in sports management.
Seemann said that Florig's experience and confidence are key ingredients for this Vikings team, and that she's become an important voice in her short time on campus.
"I just feel like I'm here to help people learn and grow. And sometimes I don't think my stats always reflect what I bring to the team. But chemistry wise, energy, I'm the type of person who wants to bring my best effort every day of practice and in games. I think people look to me for energy and just for motivation," Florig said. "I think that's where my biggest role has been with this team."
One of three fifth-year seniors on the team along with outside hitters Maddie Reeb and Parker Webb, Florig gets the attention of opponents, too.
"She definitely will capture attention of any opponent because she brings a lot of heat to the ball, and she's a good long, physical presence," Seemann said.
Florig said the opportunity to play one season at PSU was too good to pass up, even if MBA studies and a volleyball season are a challenging juggle.
"It's one of the best opportunities to come play for my hometown in front of my family and to play for a team like Portland State where everyone's committed to the program," Florig said. "Everyone's all in, and we want to win."
The wins have started coming and with five of their last six matches at home — including 7 p.m. matches Thursday, Oct. 28 against Idaho State and Saturday Oct. 30 against first-place Weber State — the Vikings are well positioned to keep the momentum going before the Big Sky Tournament in mid-November at Ogden, Utah.
There seems to be a unique energy at PSU home matches this season, players and Seemann agree — aided by freshman Lily Snook, Ellie's sister, who has turned into a big cheerleader while recovering from an injury.
Seemann chalks up some of that energy to his deep roster, its versatility (the Viks have won with both one- and two-setter systems) and that all players are invested.
"This has been the most enthusiastic and spirited team that I've coached in terms of even the bench and so environments at home have been incredible. It's a very fun team to watch."
But, Florig emphasized, it is the work nobody sees that has the program on the right track.
"Our strongest suit is definitely our ability to compete in practice, and then translate that into games. I think that's what we did right going into the seven matches that we won. We came into practice every day focused on getting better."