There are no certainties in athletics, but the University of Idaho volleyball program has established a pattern of conference success.
The Vandals have rebounded from a rough start in the Western Athletic Conference with three straight wins, including a three-game sweep on the road of second-place Utah State and last week’s home victories over conference newcomers Texas State and UTSA (University of Texas at San Antonio), despite a few players battling the flu.
Idaho (6-10, 4-2 WAC) has strung together nine straight seasons with at least .500 conference records, dating back to its membership in the Big West Conference in 2003. The Vandals are 71-45 since joining the WAC in 2005 and have finished in the top three four times.
“We’re definitely starting to play at the level we thought we would early on,” said 13th-year coach Debbie Buchanan. “I told the kids it’s a process and we have to keep getting better every week. We played really well against Utah State, which was what we needed to get some momentum.”
Idaho is on the road for three consecutive conference matches, beginning with Seattle on Friday.
“The kids have been getting better as the season goes on,” Buchanan said. “We’re bouncing between a 5-1 and 6-2 (offense) and we definitely have kids that we can do either one, based on how we’re playing.”
Washington State (10-6, 0-4 Pac-12) is still searching for its first conference win. The Cougars visit Colorado and Utah this weekend, their only conference trip where they won’t face at least one ranked opponent.
WSU is seventh nationally in blocking (3.06 per set) and Marcelina Glab ranks 13th individually (1.47 per set).
The Cougars play six of eight matches on the road before closing the regular season with six of eight at Bohler Gym.
• Gonzaga (9-7, 1-2 West Coast Conference) has its conference home opener against San Francisco on Thursday. The Bulldogs defeated Portland last week behind 39 combined kills by senior Meredith Crenshaw and freshmen Jordan Gasser and Savannah Blinn (Lewiston High).
• Eastern Washington (0-17, 0-6 Big Sky) tries to break into the win column against visiting North Dakota on Thursday and Northern Colorado on Friday. The Eagles have gone five sets in two conference losses.
• Whitworth (5-8, 1-5 Northwest Conference), battling a series of injuries, is tied for last in the NWC. Middle blocker Kristine Kardell (concussion) has missed five consecutive NWC matches and will probably be sidelined another week. Defensive specialist Whitney Santos has dealt with back issues most of the season. Setter Maddye Dinsmore just returned to action last week.
“We’ve played one match with our regular starters,” coach Steve Rupe said. “Our two outsides are doing pretty well, but when you don’t have much of an attack anywhere else it doesn’t take long to figure out who they have to stop.”
The Pirates are home for four matches in a row, beginning with Pacific on Friday and Linfield on Saturday. Nationally-ranked Pacific Lutheran (6-0 NWC) and Puget Sound (5-1) visit next week.
• North Idaho College (13-2, 1-2 Scenic West Athletic Conference) reached No. 1 in the NJCAA poll a few weeks ago, but losses to Salt Lake and Southern Idaho – both ranked in the top six – have dropped the Cardinals to a tie for fourth place in conference.
NIC is on the road for four straight SWAC matches.
• Community Colleges of Spokane (16-5, 4-2 NWAACC East) is chasing co-leading Blue Mountain (6-0) and Walla Walla (6-0). CCS, which entertains Yakima Valley tonight, was ranked sixth in the first NWAACC poll two weeks ago.