The Vandal volleyball team faced plenty of drama and adversity this weekend, but the team managed to fight through it to go 2-1 in the Idaho Nike Invitational, setting the bar high for the rest of the season.
As the weekend progressed, the Vandals got stronger. They started off shaky, losing to Pacific in five, but found their footing and went on to finish the weekend with two straight wins, beating Montana and rival Washington State.
Next up for the Vandals will be a trip to California, where they’ll face Cal Poly and then participate in the UCSB Fall Invitational.
Pacific won the tournament, winning all three games they played. Idaho came in second with the next best record. The Vandals had two players named to the All-Tournament team in junior Allison (Walker) Baker and sophomore Alyssa Schultz.
“It’s amazing,” Schultz said. “It’s an honor that I’ve never received, and to get it as a sophomore, it’s good to know that I’m leading the team in some way.”
The Vandals started the tournament on Friday night, losing to Pacific in five sets. Idaho took a 2-0 lead to begin the game, but were unable to hold up against a powerful Pacific team in the next three.
Idaho coach Debbie Buchanan said she liked the resiliency her players showed in the match, but said they need to learn how to finish.
“I liked how our kids fought,” Buchanan said. “We were behind but we battled through it. As we got through that match, after those first two games, we came out and we were a different team. We had too many errors from the service line, and just weren’t taking care of the ball.”
The Vandals added a few surprises to their starting lineup, including freshman Jenna Ellis and senior setter Ryan Carter, who started over three-year starter Jenny Feicht.
Carter said the two setters are still extremely close in practice, but said her work ethic changed coming into the year.
“This year I feel like I came out from the beginning with a different mindset and I’ve worked my butt off more than I ever have, so starting and playing feels better than ever,” Carter said. “We’re still neck and neck.”
The Vandals returned to Memorial Gym Saturday and defeated Montana in four sets to claim their first win of the year. After losing the first set 30-28, Idaho seemed like a different team and dominated the next three sets.
“Against Montana we started getting our rhythm offensively,” Buchanan said. “We started getting in the flow of the game, which we really didn’t have against Pacific.”
Idaho then closed out the tournament with a nail-biting 3-2 win over rival WSU. The Vandals faced elimination in the fourth set, but managed to fend off a late Cougar surge to survive and take the set 28-26. The Vandals carried momentum into the fifth set, winning it 15-13 to take the set and the match.
Buchanan said the way her team fought through the adversity says a lot about her players.
“We didn’t give up,” Buchanan said. “A few years ago we would have rolled. They didn’t give up, they fought. We were down in game five and they came back and rallied. They have that belief, which is good. Now we just have to work on the skill side to go along with that.”
Winning any rivalry game is good for team moral, and Schultz said the team learned a lot about what this team is capable of.
“I’d say that we’re really dedicated,” Schultz said. “If we fell behind, we didn’t drop our heads. We stayed focused. We came out hard and we came out wanting to defend our own turf.”
While the Vandals showed some defensive adjustments have to be made, a 2-1 start against strong opposition is a positive.
Carter said these wins, especially the WSU win, should help the Vandals’ confidence going into next week’s road matches.
“It’s really big for us. We’ve always had a big rivalry with Wazzu,” Carter said. “Going off two wins is really great for us.”
Kevin Bingaman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org