A back-and-forth contest between Idaho and North Dakota took five thrilling sets to decide, but the Vandals emerged victorious 3-2. Idaho is now in a tie for 1st in the Big Sky North.
Head coach Debbie Buchanan said the game was a full team effort and their willingness to overcome adversity ultimately helped the team close the match in winning fashion.
“Tonight was huge,” Buchanan said. “Everyone contributed. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The opening set displayed the grit it would take to win the match. Idaho rose to the occasion. The Vandals claimed the opening set 25-20.
Idaho went blow-for-blow in the early stages, though they began to pull away late. The Fighting Hawks were forced to use a timeout after the Vandals extended the lead to four.
Redshirt freshman defender Maura Donovan played a key role for the Vandals. She recorded 12 digs, with a critical one coming at the end of the first set.
After a hot start, the second set featured even more Idaho success. The Vandals won 25-16. The two-set lead was exactly what Idaho needed. But there’s a reason these teams are Big Sky front-runners.
North Dakota came out and threw the ball down. The Fighting Hawks jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead. Many of their scores came off kills.
Although they surrendered an early lead, the Vandals made their way back. They tied the game 13-13. North Dakota ultimately finished them off 25-21.
Of all the sets, the fourth was directly representing of this matchup. Every point felt like a battle in its own. Idaho was fighting to win the war. North Dakota was fighting to stay alive.
The Vandals came stomping back after the Fighting Hawks spent most of the set in commanding control.
With the score tied 21-21, the crowd grew louder. The band did the same. Junior outside hitter Sarah Sharp’s recorded a kill that gave Idaho a 22-21 lead.
The set featured more back-and-forth action. It even went further than the normal 25 points it takes to win most sets. North Dakota won 29-27 and forced the decisive fifth set.
Idaho looked strong in the early stages of the final set. The Vandals jumped out to a 6-3 lead, although North Dakota came back to claim their own.
All knotted up 9-9, and the Vandals were fired up.
Sharp was utilized in many ways. When she wasn’t tallying kills, she was acting as a decoy. The diversion helped Idaho pull away in the set.
Down to the wire, and the score was tied 13-13. Junior outside hitter Kaela Straw recorded a clutch block that gave Idaho the lead.
The match-point was recorded by junior outside hitter Reece Carman and Idaho won 15-13. She slammed the ball with authority, then immediately went to her knees in astonishing relief. The game ended with a swarm of excited Vandals surrounding Carman in celebration of the victory.
Next for the Vandals is a matchup with yet another Big Sky foe, the University of Montana 6 p.m. Thursday at University of Montana.
Zack Ozuna can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @OzunaZack21