The season began with a bang for the Idaho volleyball team last week, winning 3-0 at the New Mexico Tournament. One week later, challenging opponents halted Idaho’s progress.
The Vandals are 3-3 overall, after losing three matches in the Seattle U Tournament last weekend.
In a news release, Idaho coach Debbie Buchanan said the rough weekend won’t stop the team’s progress.
“We told the team this is not going to define who we are going to be,” Buchanan said. “We have to learn from this and get back in the gym and make things better. (The season) is not going to get any easier. We just have to work and getting better and competing at a higher level.”
Idaho’s challenging weekend began with a 3-1 loss (18-25, 25-19, 21-25, 16-25) to No. 5 Washington Friday at the Alaska Airlines Arena.
Sophomore outside hitter Kaela Straw continued her momentum from New Mexico, leading the team with 13 kills. Sophomore setter Haylee Mathis earned her first double-double with 19 assists and 17 digs.
The Huskies’ -.021 hitting percentage and 13 errors helped give Idaho the opportunity for a win in the second set.
Buchanan said the offense and middles contributed to Idaho’s second set win.
“We were running our offense pretty fast and making good swings,” Buchanan said. “We were trying to get our middles involved a little more. In game two, seven of our 22 attacks came from the middles. We were starting to feed them the ball, which opens up our pins a bit more.”
Washington coach Keegan Cook said the second set loss didn’t impact the team’s behavior on the court.
“We weren’t changing our behaviors in the face of some adversity,” Cook said in a news release. “It got gnarly there in that second set, Idaho did a great job all match.”
The Vandals lost 3-2 to Seattle U Friday in a grinding five set match (25-22, 25-27, 25-22, 19-25, 15-10) at Connolly Complex.
Straw earned a career-high 19 kills and senior defensive specialist Terra Varney had 27 digs. Varney is now eighth on Idaho’s all-time dig list with 1,072, only 17 digs behind alumni Janelle Chow.
Buchanan said playing two games in one day was grueling for players still recovering from injuries.
“Seattle U played great at the pins and really challenged us with big blocks and aggressive serving,” Buchanan said. “I knew it was going to be tough with us playing earlier in the day. We need to get our middles more involved in the offense as we continue to get healthy.”
The Vandals were swept by the Villanova 3-0 (23-25, 13-25, 22-25) Saturday in their last match of the tournament.
Varney added five digs Saturday, putting her 12 digs shy of Chow. Junior outside hitter Becca Mau led the team with eight kills and three blocks.
Buchanan said she wasn’t pleased with the team’s performance Saturday.
“Saturday was a disappointing day,” Buchanan said. “We looked a little tired and that cannot be an excuse. We have to be able to come out and play. We were able to do a lot of good things this tournament. We are playing good defense.”
The Vandals promise took a 6-1 lead in the third set before the Wildcats bounced back. After tying the score, Villanova scored the final three points.
Buchanan said third set loss was another indicator of the team’s health.
“We should have started the match playing at the level we did at the start of the third,” Buchanan said. “We did not play as good as we did against Washington. We are still working on getting in volleyball shape. That is the tough part about dealing with the injuries we had in the preseason.”
Idaho will play in the Washington State Cougar Challenge starting Friday in Pullman. The Vandals start with George Washington at 9:30 a.m. before facing Maryland Eastern Shore at 5 p.m.
Thewraps up with a battle of the Palouse. Idaho playsends the tournament against Washington State 1 p.m. Saturday at Bohler Gym in Pullman. The Cougars enter the tournament 5-1.
Big Sky Conference play begins Sept. 22.
Luis Torres can be reached email@example.com or on Twitter @TheLTFiles