| 03.24.2018

Strong season, tough finish


Idaho volleyball ends season with losing streak despite strong Big Sky play

It wasn’t the ending the Idaho volleyball team was looking for when it lost to Northern Arizona in the first round of the Big Sky Tournament Nov. 20 in Pocatello, Idaho. The Vandals qualified for the tournament as the No. 4 seed.

Idaho stumbled at the end of the season losing its last three matches including the tournament loss to Northern Arizona. However, the losses came against tough Big Sky Conference teams, including North Dakota, Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona.

In addition to the tough schedule toward the end of the season, the Vandals played without first-team all-conference setter Meredith Coba against Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona. Coba, a junior, sustained a season-ending knee injury against North Dakota Nov. 13.

“There’s a lot of trust that goes on with volleyball and you have to build that, and I think they felt really comfortable with Meredith obviously, since she started as a setter the whole year,” Idaho coach Debbie Buchanan said. “So I think that changed the dynamics of our team. It’s not in a bad way. It’s just that we didn’t have enough time to really have enough reps I think with the change.”

Buchanan said she doesn’t know when Coba will be able to play again.

Idaho finished the season 15-14 overall and 11-6 in Big Sky play, including the tournament loss.

The Vandals began the season 4-8 before starting conference play. Buchanan said the tough nonconference schedule helped prepare Idaho for Big Sky Conference play. It was Idaho’s first season in the Big Sky since 1995.

Idaho faced No. 10 Florida in Gainesville, Florida, and No. 23 Loyola Marymount in Pullman to conclude nonconference play. Idaho also played other formidable teams like Oklahoma and Long Beach State. All four teams made the NCAA Tournament.

Once the Vandals reached conference play, they got back on track. Before their final three matches of the season, Idaho was 11-3 against Big Sky competition. Eight out of those 11 wins came in 3-0 sweeps. At one point during its Big Sky stretch, Idaho won 12 straight sets.

“I think our team was playing at a level that was pretty impressive,” Buchanan said. “That’s why I think if we could have stayed healthy, I think we could have taken that on through.”

The Vandals will lose four seniors as they enter the 2015 season, including first-team all-conference middle blocker Alyssa Schultz and Big Sky’s Newcomer of the Year Stephanie Hagins, also a middle blocker. Outside hitters Jessica Hastriter and Tineke Bierma were also seniors this season.

Idaho should still return plenty of key players in 2015. Defensive specialists Terra Varney and Jenna Ellis, second-team all- conference outside hitter Ali Forde and outside hitter Katelyn Peterson are all eligible to return next year in addition to Coba.

“Our passing and ball control needs to keep getting better,” Buchanan said. “Offensively, we are proving that we are doing some good things. We just have to be able to stay in some of those matches and those rallies longer, and I think that was the one difference in the matches that we did lose came down to defense and our passing. So that’s one area that we really have to work on going into next year.”

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu

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