The Vandals saw their Western Athletic Conference Championship hopes dissolve with a loss in the semifinals at the hands of their New Mexico State rivals despite a memorable season for the Idaho volleyball program.
“I think this was the best year we’ve had offensively,” Idaho coach Debbie Buchanan said.
The season began as a rebuilding year with the loss of several starters, such as libero Janelle Chow and outside hitter Allison (Walker) Baker, but some experienced veterans eventually settled into the ranks for the Vandals in 2013. Sophomore Meredith Coba earned her starting job at setter and junior Alyssa Schultz set high expectations in the middle with an already historic career in the making as the all-time hitting percentage leader at Idaho.
The Vandals thrived in the opening tournament of the 2013 season with a 3-1 record Aug. 30-31 at the Wyoming Invite — beating Montana State, Drake and Stetson. They then had a slump, with three consecutive losses in the Northern Arizona Fiesta Classic. In the Bronco Volleyball Classic, the talent the team possessed was re-instilled performance-wise with three consecutive wins to sweep the tournament. Rounding out non-conference play, the Vandals got shutout by Washington State in the Cougar Invite but shutout Nevada in the next match.
Going into conference play, it was established that Coba could run the offense and the blocking team was solid with the Vandals out-blocking every opponent they faced, which they would do against most of their opponents for the remainder of the season. Schultz would continue to hit the best average on the team and senior Taylor Wilkinson and Schultz worked together to dominate as Idaho’s blocking duo. Coba finished the season with 1,090 assists to average about 37 per match on the season.
As far as the non-conference play went, the Vandals seemed off and on — but the conference play was the main concern for Idaho as it determines who makes the WAC Tournament.
The Vandals dropped their home opener Sept. 26 against Utah Valley despite an impressive performance by Ashley Christman who would put up the best numbers of her career in the final season of her career. Jenna Ellis tallied 17 digs as libero and continued to account for a great deal of the teams back row coverage. Freshman defensive specialist Terra Varney garnered 13 digs and made some acrobatic saves. When Varney was on point this season, she proved her place on the starting roster along with Coba. The match was also the WAC opener for Idaho.
Numbers that stood out in the match against the Wolverines were the Vandals low hitting percentage and costly errors, which sparked inconsistency. The Vandals would make some corrections to their game though as the season went on to finish the home opening series 2-1 with wins against Cal-State Bakersfield and Grand Canyon.
The next time the Vandals faced Bakersfield on the road they dropped the match 1-3. Road woes also included losses to Seattle U and a painful shutout loss to rival New Mexico State. The Oct. 11 matchup against Seattle, on a positive note, represented the emergence of redshirt freshman Ali Forde who hit .303 with 12 kills — despite the loss. Forde had another breakout match where she hit .536 and added seven kills Nov. 2 against Texas Pan-American. In her first season, Forde proved to be both an asset off the bench and as a starter despite her youth. She had a career-high .579 hitting percentage against Chicago State in her first start. She also contributed 15 kills in the second to last match of the season against Grand Canyon.
During Senior Night on Nov. 8 against Seattle in Memorial Gym, Christman had arguably the best match of her career in the win. Christman racked up career-highs with 18 kills and 13 digs along with her first career double-double. It was all-in-all a great week for Christman who earned WAC Volleyball Player of the Week honors for averaging the most kills and points of all players in the conference.
From there, the Vandals went into the WAC Tournament on a five-game winning streak and entered the tournament as the No. 4 seed. The Vandals started the tournament with a 3-0 sweep of No. 5 seed Missouri-Kansas City.
Unfortunately, Idaho’s championship hopes ended in the semifinals. Despite earning the best record since the 1996 season with a 19-11 record and achieving the best hitting percentage in the WAC and No. 51 best in the nation at .247, the Vandals fell to eventual repeat champions, New Mexico State. The Vandals split wins and losses with all the other WAC teams but could never beat the Aggies. The Aggies also knocked the Vandals out of the tournament last year in the finals and a hard fought five-set loss in the semifinals would sum up the 2013 season for the young Idaho team.
“We competed hard,” Buchannan said. “That’s probably the best we’ve competed all year.”
Next year seems promising for Idaho with the return of Schultz, Coba, Forde, Jessica Hastriter, Katelyn Peterson, Varney and Ellis but Christman and Wilkinson will be missed. Schultz ended the season as an All-WAC first-team and WAC All-Tournament team member while Wilkinsion was a second-team pick and Forde earned WAC All-Freshman team honors. This was Idaho’s last season in the WAC as they will compete in the Big Sky next year.
Aaron Wolfe can be reached at email@example.com