As the Idaho Vandal volleyball team moves onto their penultimate invitational starting Friday against Cal Poly in Portland, Oregon, the young team continues to develop its playing style after two tough invitationals. The Vandals have already played top-35 teams in the country, including the season opener against then-No. 18 Hawaii.
Idaho has 10 underclassmen on the team. Juniors Terra Varney and Michele Brown and seniors Tineke Bierma, Meredith Coba, Jenna Ellis and Katelyn Peterson make up the upperclassmen.
Despite only winning a single game so far this season, the freshmen have shown growth after six matches, including middle and outside hitter DeVonne Ryter and outside hitter Sarah Sharp.
Sharp, who redshirted last season, earned 11 kills against UC Irvine and Washington State.
Ryter, who started the last five games, had a .429 attacking percentage with nine kills and two serve assists against Wichita State Aug. 30 in Hawaii.
“We got a great freshmen class,” Idaho coach Debbie Buchanan said. “We have a lot of freshmen in that mix. It’s not just one (Sharp). We have two freshmen middles (Ryter and Laine Waters) and they’re all contributing.”
Sharp and Ryter are the only freshmen to have started a game this season, with the other five having played in several sets last weekend.
Sophomores Torrin Crawford, Sami Parris and Becca Mau have played bigger roles this season.
Crawford, the only sophomore starter in the six games Idaho has played, already surpassed her career best in kills in a match this season. Her 13 kills in a losing effort against UC Irvine Saturday beat her previous high of eight kills last season.
Buchanan said each game helps the Vandals gain more experience but she also expects them to get better on their plays before playing in the upcoming invitational at the Chiles Center in Portland.
Buchanan said that especially since there are so many of them, the underclassmen need to learn how to play effectively to help the team in the next few seasons.
“We got to keep our errors down but they’re trying to gain experience at the same time,” Buchanan said. “[The upperclassmen] are the kids that really got to keep their errors down to allow the freshmen to have a little bit more wiggle room when it comes down to those tough plays.”
With two invitationals complete and two more to go before Idaho faces its opponents in the Big Sky Conference, Buchanan said the team is slowly gaining confidence after facing tough opponents these past two weeks.
“We’re gonna keep getting better … we’re polishing some things up,” Buchanan said. “I would rather be tested and know what we have to work on by getting challenged.”
In addition to their game against Cal Poly at 7 p.m. Friday, the Vandals have another two games Saturday. They play Portland at 10 a.m. and St. Francis at 4 p.m.
Luis Torres can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org