First place is on the line, Saturday.
The Vandal volleyball team (3-1 WAC) hits the road for the first road trip of the conference schedule, getting off to a good start Thursday night with a 3-0 sweep at Texas-Pan American against the Broncs. The Vandals took the sets 25-20, 25-22 and 25-23.
The win sets up a massive match-up on Saturday for a rematch of last November’s WAC Tournament Championship game against New Mexico State (2-0 WAC), which Idaho lost in four sets.
Idaho will go into Las Cruces with three straight wins on nine consecutive set victories, dropping its last set in the opening set of a 3-1 win over Cal-State Bakersfield on Sept. 28.
“It’s going to be a tough match,” Idaho coach Debbie Buchanan said. “New Mexico State is playing well, we’re a little up and down at times. I think it should be a tough match. We’re going to have to be a lot better than we were tonight going into Saturday’s match.”
Despite the sweep, the Broncs didn’t make it easy on Thursday night for the Vandals, having a lead in each of the matches and forcing the Vandals to come through with strong finishes to cap off each set victory.
Each time it was a timeout from Buchanan that got Idaho back on track. Idaho finished off the first set on a 13-5 run after the timeout, and each of the final two sets on 4-0 runs after timeouts.
Idaho was out-killed by the Broncs 46-38 and only out-hit them .239 to .219. It was the 24 errors from UTPA that gave Idaho the edge.
“I felt like even though we shot it at an okay percent, we didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm about us. When you’re on the road, you have to create that energy for your team,” Buchanan said. “They had a crowd here, they had fans. That’s going to happen on the road, but we were pretty flat tonight and I think we’re lucky to walk out of here with a sweep.”
The attack wasn’t nearly as distributed as it has been for Idaho in the past couple of wins. Only three players had eight or more kills, with Jessica Hastriter and Katelyn Peterson leading the way with 10. Meredith Coba led the Vandals with 33 assists and Jenna Ellis led in digs with 21.
Still, Buchanan said the attack wasn’t as coordinated as it should have been.
“We were scrappy, but we were jumpy tonight. We have to start moving some balls that we normally would play up and be able to transition, it looked like we were scrappy because we were a little bit out of system,” Buchanan said. “I think we chalk it up as not great, one of the things we have to be better at when we’re on the road, can we execute on a higher level and we can be on our game.”
Idaho could have sole possession of first place in the WAC by weekend’s end, depending on Missouri-Kansas City’s performance at Cal-State Bakersfield on Saturday.
Sean Kramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org