Big challenge on Big Island
Things won’t get any easier for the Idaho volleyball team after dropping four straight matches in last week’s road trip. The Vandals travel to Hawaii for the Verizon Volleyball Challenge this weekend and will play two teams ranked within the nation’s Top 10.
The Vandals (2-5) played four solid teams last week and played them all close, but couldn’t pull out a win in California.
Sophomore Alyssa Schultz said the team’s morale is still high, despite the losses.
“We’re actually pretty upbeat,” Schultz said. “Those were all four good teams. We just need to come out with a little more fire and we’re working on that right now.”
This week things will get tougher when they face No. 3 UCLA (3-1), No. 9 (5-1) Hawaii and San Diego State (5-0), which is on the verge of cracking the Top 25.
Junior Allison (Walker) Baker said Idaho is capable of playing with anyone and the losses were due to her team’s mistakes.
“It’s all on us,” Baker said. “It wasn’t necessarily what the other team was doing. Our coaches have really been stressing that in practice, so hopefully we can figure it out.”
Baker has started the season on fire for Idaho, putting up a double-double in every game so far this season.
“I just learned from last year,” Baker said. “I still have a lot to work on, and it help when you play four to five set matches, but it’s just learning every year.”
The Vandals will face No.3 UCLA to begin the tournament at 8 p.m. on Friday. The Bruins have won both past meetings with the Vandals and look to be just as talented this year.
Idaho coach Debbie Buchanan said UCLA may be the No. 3 team in the nation, but they’re beatable.
“It’s just another match,” Buchanan said. “Right now I don’t care who we play, we just got to go out and play our style of volleyball. These are matches you can win. It’s not like they’re ranked in the Top Ten and you can’t beat them. They’re beatable and we’re just going to keep getting better over time.”
The Vandals will return to the court Saturday night to face former WAC rival Hawaii. The Wahine holds an 18-0 record over Idaho, but Baker said she thinks her team is primed to snap that streak this year.
“I think we can do really well against then, and honestly I think we should be able to beat them,” Baker said. “Last year we came really close a few times. If we pull together we can definitely compete against them. It should be fun and I’m excited for it.”
Idaho will conclude the tournament with San Diego State. The Vandals and Aztecs have a 1-1 record against each other and both were expected to do well this season.
It’ll be a tough weekend of competition for the Vandals, but it’s what Buchanan said she wants in order to prepare her team for conference play, which starts next week.
Schultz said the team needs to come out positive and play up to its potential.
“What we need to do is create our own energy and finish games,” Schultz said. “We’re right there with these teams. We have all the talent in the world. We just need to be a little more aggressive.”
Kevin Bingaman can be reached at email@example.com