The Idaho Vandals and Eastern Washington Eagles find themselves in the muddled middle of their conference volleyball standings as the regular season winds down. Both feel they have a shot against the conference leaders, both are trying to hold off capable teams on their heels for tournament seeding.
Idaho (11-11, 5-4 WAC) has dropped two straight, but the Vandals pushed No. 7 Hawaii, winners of 49 consecutive conference matches, in a three-set loss late Sunday night. The first set was tied at 23 and the second and third were tied at 22.
“We played great,” Vandals coach Debbie Buchanan said. “We just made some errors at the end.”
The Vandals are in third place, but one game separates third through sixth places. The top six qualify for the WAC tournament in Las Vegas. Idaho, which has finished at least .500 in the WAC every season since 2002, entertains Louisiana Tech on Thursday and New Mexico State on Saturday before finishing with three road matches.
“We have to take care of business and win some matches,” Buchanan said. “Everybody is beatable, but we have San Jose State and Fresno State behind us and they’re playing better.”
EWU (10-11, 6-4) won its first four Big Sky matches, and then lost four in a row before posting road wins last week over Idaho State and Weber State. The Eagles are in fourth place, one game behind first-place Sacramento State (which has played two fewer games) and one game ahead of Northern Arizona, Montana and Idaho State.
“Some of the results have some coaches shaking their heads,” said coach Miles Kydd, whose team entertains Montana on Friday and Montana State on Saturday. “John Kruk said on (ESPN’s) ‘Baseball Tonight’ momentum is only as good as your next pitcher and that’s how our league feels this year. There are no guarantees either way.”
The top four qualify for the Big Sky tournament.
Titles within reach
Whitworth, North Idaho College and Community Colleges of Spokane are in first place in their respective conferences.
Whitworth (16-5, 11-1) has a two-game lead in the Northwest Conference entering road dates with Puget Sound on Friday and second-place Pacific Lutheran on Saturday. A sweep would give the Pirates their second consecutive NWC crown and a berth to the national tournament.
“I met with our captains (Sunday) and I was like, ‘What do you want to do?’ ” coach Steve Rupe said. “It ain’t broke, there’s nothing to fix. We’re doing a lot of things well. Now it’s a matter if we can keep it going.”
Whitworth plans on submitting a bid to host one of the national tournament’s eight-team regionals.
NIC (20-7, 7-1) won its ninth straight match, a four-set road victory over College of Southern Idaho on Saturday. The Cardinals need one win to repeat as Scenic West Athletic Conference champions and host the Region 18 tournament. NIC visits Eastern Utah on Friday and Colorado Northwestern on Saturday.
CCS (28-5, 9-1 NWAACC East), which entertains Treasure Valley on Friday, holds a one-game lead over Blue Mountain and Walla Walla.
Ninth-place Washington State (11-11, 3-9) returns home to face Arizona on Friday and Arizona State on Saturday. The Cougars have five more overall wins and three more Pac-12 wins than last year’s squad. Senior Meagan Ganzer leads the conference and is fifth nationally with 4.84 kills per set. … Former Mead High standout Alexis Olgard had five kills in six attempts to help No. 4 USC sweep Colorado for the first-place Trojans’ 12th straight win. Olgard had knee surgery in the spring and mononucleosis at the outset of the season. She made her season debut Sept. 30.