Vandal volleyball came into the Memorial Gym Friday night against Portland State hoping to tie North Dakota for the best conference record in the Big Sky North. Idaho (12-9, BSC 7-3) was swept in the contest, but made frequent comeback runs against a strong offensive attack from Portland State (17-5, BSC 8-2), a team that holds the Big Sky’s second-best record.
Junior outside-hitter Sarah Sharp led the game in kills, recording 15 and improving on her .240 attacking percentage by hitting .400. Sharp came in clutch in significant moments, often putting the momentum back on Idaho’s side.
Idaho head coach Debbie Buchanan said the team battled and came back in some key moments, but needs to improve in some areas to accomplish its goals.
“Overall, we have to compete more than we are right now,” Buchanan said. “It felt like we battled and came back…we’re just not finishing, we really have to work to finish matches right now.”
Set one could best be described as a back-and-forth nail biter in which both teams shared spurts of momentum. Junior outside hitter Reece Carman got things started with back-to-back kills before Portland State went on a 5-0 run largely on the back of misplaced Idaho balls.
The Vikings took a 12-4 lead after Idaho struggled to maintain any kind of consistency on the attack, due in part to impressive digging abilities by Viking outside-hitter Caitlin Bettenay and strong contention at the net. Sharp came alive when the Vandals needed it most, compiling five kills on the set and helping Idaho climb back in.
Both squads had to earn every point, and just when it appeared Portland State had pulled away, Idaho rode a kill from Sharp, an ensuing block from junior middle-blocker DeVonne Ryter, and another Straw kill to claw back within striking distance at 19-17.
The Vandals knotted it up at 23 after a block from junior setter Haylee Mathis before the Vikings put away the set, 25-23, on two kills resulting from Idaho blocking errors.
Idaho started the second set again at a deficit, as Portland State came out to an early 15-9 lead and later an 18-11 advantage. In a competition reminiscent of the first set, however, the Vandals refused to let the Vikings roll past them.
Sharp yet again returned the momentum to the home side after recording four kills in seven volleys, tying the set at 19. Sharp seemingly took the set into her own hands, slamming down six kills en route to a near-comeback.
A kill from Ryter put the contest at 23-21, but Portland State would again recollect its attack that was missing midway through the set, allowing a near Vandal comeback. The Vikings stifled Idaho on an ace from defensive specialist Tasha Bojanic, ending the set at 25-21.
Portland State started on the attack in set three, jumping out to an early 3-0 lead before an ace from junior defensive specialist Alycia Wodke, a block from Crawford and another kill from Sharp gave Idaho a 5-4 lead, its first since 2-0 in the opening set.
Portland State went on another spurt, this time a 4-0 run which was answered by two Straw kills, one thanks to a reaching one-armed dig by Wodke. Idaho’s offense and considerable blocking was not enough to hinder the Vikings’ offense though, as Portland State continue to exploit the middle of the defense.
Idaho came from behind again on the arm of Sharp and a block from Crawford, giving the Vandals a 22-20 lead. But Portland State scored four straight, eventually finishing off Idaho 25-23.
Despite the sweep, Idaho had a .290 attacking percentage compared to .263 for Portland State. The Vikings edged Idaho out on kills, however, 52-47, and found several holes in the Vandals’ defense. Both teams struggled with errors. Idaho committed 16 and Portland State 20.
The Vandals also out-blocked the Vikings, eight to two.
Straw joined Sharp in double-figure kills, slamming home 10. Mathis dished out 38 assists and Wodke had 21 digs, several coming on acrobatic, reaching saves.
For Portland State, middle-blocker Katy Wilson put down 12 kills, Bettenay and middle-blocker Mikaelyn Sych each recorded 10. Sych lead the game in attacking percentage, knocking home .667 percent of her attempts.
The Vandals will begin a two-match road trip beginning with Idaho State 6 p.m. Thursday in Pocatello.
Colton Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @coltonclark95