After recording six-straight match victories, Idaho volleyball ended its 2017 season in the second round of the Big Sky Tournament, suffering a four-set loss to North Dakota.
The defeat marks the second-straight season in which the Vandals have been eliminated by the Fighting Hawks.
Despite being a preseason choice to finish low in the Big Sky standings, Idaho (18-11, BSC 12-4) recorded its best record since 2013, when it finished with 19 wins after being knocked out of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament by New Mexico State.
Sharing the top of the Big Sky North with North Dakota (29-7, BSC 12-4), the Vandals claimed a regular season tie in the conference for the second time in four years.
Idaho head coach Debbie Buchanan said in a news release she was satisfied and discontent with her team’s finish in a post-game.
“We were picked to finish sixth or seventh in the preseason,” Buchanan said. “I am really proud of the girls. We battled all year and got better. This is a hard way to go out.”
In a set featuring nine ties and six lead changes, Idaho and North Dakota traded off the lead in a hotly contested first set.
A kill from junior outside hitter Kaela Straw boosted the Vandals to a tie at 21 before Idaho finished off the set, 25-23, with a block, capping off a conclusive 5-1 run.
Capitalizing off of 11 Idaho errors in the second set, UND recorded a dominant, 25-17 victory.
UND setter Sydney Griffin sent back three Vandal attempts on blocks in the third set alone. The Fighting Hawks dismantled Idaho at the net, recording five total blocks to keep Idaho in check with a .000 attacking percentage (9-9-30). UND rolled to a commanding 2-1 lead after assertively taking set three, 25-16.
Idaho came out stronger in the fourth, taking a 9-5 lead after scoring four-straight points on kills from Straw and sophomore setter Haylee Mathis.
UND recovered quickly, evening the score at 16 before taking an 18-17 lead, taking advantage of another Idaho error. A kill from junior middle blocker DeVonne Ryter bumped the Vandals up to within one point, at 23-22, but the Hawks grabbed the last two points and the match win.
Fighting Hawk middle hitters Faith Dooley and Jordan Vail shared the match-high in kills, each recording 14. Outside hitters Tamara Mersili and Ashley Brueggeman also were in double-figure kills, knocking down 10 and 13, respectively.
UND outhit Idaho, .278 to .197 and committed five fewer errors. The close postgame numbers inadequately represented how the contest ended up, as the Vandals were considerably handled.
Junior outside hitter Sarah Sharp passed a career mark of 900 kills, leading the Vandals with 12 blasts.
Mathis posted her sixth double-double of the season with 10 digs and 41 assists while sophomore outside hitter Delany Hopen matched a career-high in digs with 16.
The Fighting Hawks will play for the Big Sky championship Saturday night against Sacramento State.
Idaho returns the bulk of its players next season, but loses outside hitter Torrin Crawford and defensive specialist Klaree Hobart to graduation. Sharp, Straw and Ryter, all of whom were honored by the conference over the weekend, return for their final seasons next year.
Colton Clark can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @coltonclark95