Many club sports at the University of Idaho struggle to find enough athletes to compete, and the menâ€™s volleyball club is no exception.
With only nine players, the program had difficulty holding practice, in addition to competing with teams with well over 12 athletes.
But what the team lacked in numbers, it made up in teamwork and determination.
Sophomore middle hitter Dan Bilafer said the team spent the fall semester learning new rotations and various playing styles, then gaining experience during the spring.
â€œAt the beginning of the year we were a bit shaky, but we were able to iron out a few things and we really put together a solid team,â€ Bilafer said.
Once the spring season began, the rosterâ€™s size did not affect the teamâ€™s competitiveness.
The Vandals won two separate tournaments this season â€” a feat senior Wes Sjoerdsma said the club had not accomplished at any other point in time.
Idahoâ€™s performance in the regular season resulted in a division change when the team entered the national tournament, as the program moved from Division I AAA to Division I AA.
â€œI think we had a pretty solid performance over the course of the year, which is of course why they gave us a division bump,â€ Sjoerdsma said.
Both Sjoerdsma and Bilafer said a large amount of the teamâ€™s success can be attributed to senior setter Tanner Haage.
â€œHe definitely helped out with the entire morale of the team because all of the plays went through him,â€ Bilafer said. â€œHeâ€™s the only guy that got to touch the ball every time.â€
In addition to Haageâ€™s contributions, Sjoerdsma said the clubâ€™s performance at the middle position proved to be vital throughout the season.
â€œOne of our biggest strengths, especially in our region, is our middle game,â€ Sjoerdsma said. â€œTwo of our strongest pieces of our team are our middle game and the setter.â€
The Vandals went 4-2 during pool play at the national tournament in Louisville last weekend.
During the first day of competition, the club competed in a pool consisting of Penn University, Rowan University and Chico State. On the second day, the team competed against Duke, Miami and the Rhode Island Institute of Technology.
â€œWe played very well during pool play,â€ Bilafer said. â€œEverything clicked and we just played amazingly.â€
As the tournament progressed, Bilafer and Sjoerdsma said the team had one issue during key moments â€” serving.
â€œWe put the ball into the net or out of the court when it really mattered and that was definitely a momentum killer,â€ Bilafer said. â€œIt just kills everything and itâ€™s definitely tough to rally after a crucial missed serve.â€
The Vandals faced Drexel University in the first round of the tournament. Bilafer said the team felt fatigue after three days of tournament play.
â€œI donâ€™t know if it was us being tired or just sore shoulders,â€ Bilafer said. â€œWe just didnâ€™t come to play and they did.â€
The Vandals fell to Drexel in two sets (25-17, 25-16) to end the spring season.
Bilafer and Sjoerdsma said nothing has kept the duo off the court, despite the season ending.
â€œWe just love this sport so much,â€ Bilafer said, â€œWeâ€™re down to play as much as we can.â€
Mihaela Karst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org