Washington State climbed to the top of the Pac-12 volleyball standings in early October with a 5-0 record that included wins over three top 10 opponents.
The Cougars have dropped five of their last seven and now sit in a tie for fifth place.
The difference? Coach Jen Greeny noted that the offense hasn’t been as productive and the rugged Pac-12 chews up teams not playing at or near the top of their game.
She also pointed out something that won’t show up on a stat sheet.
“Sometimes it can be a tough transition just mentally,” Greeny said of going from the hunter to the hunted. “You’re going after something as the underdog and then you’re not the underdog anymore.”
Greeny has addressed her team about regaining that aggressive, fearless mentality that fueled the fast conference start.
“We talked about being the aggressor and not waiting to see what other team is going to do,“ Greeny said. “But the human mind is a strange thing and everybody reacts a little differently. We’ll try to do everything we can to get everybody back going in the same direction.”
WSU is still ranked No. 23, still in the chase for a Pac-12 title and still has a great opportunity to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
The Cougars are two games behind Washington and UCLA, and they already own road wins over both squads. Oregon and Stanford, which split with WSU, share second at 8-4.
Since 1986, only two Pac-12 champs have had more than two losses – Stanford was 14-4 in 2009, and Stanford and Cal went 15-3 in 2010.
“I don’t know (how many wins or what place in the standings) it’ll take, it’s just such a mess this year,” Greeny said of reaching the NCAA tournament. “I’m sure it will come down to RPI like it normally does.”
WSU is a solid 28th in NCAA RPI. The Cougars are home for six of their last eight matches, beginning with visits from Oregon State on Friday and No. 20 Oregon on Sunday.
Vandals back in tourney picture
It’s been an interesting year for Idaho, which has encountered an unusual number of injuries. At one point, setter Haylee Mathis filled in at middle blocker to cover for an injured teammate.
The Vandals are as healthy as they’ve been in a while. It showed last weekend when Idaho (9-15, 4-8 Big Sky) claimed back-to-back conference wins for the first time by knocking off Idaho State and Eastern Washington.
“We’re young so we needed that,” said coach Debbie Buchanan, who has just one senior on the roster. “I feel like we turned a little bit of a corner.”
The top eight teams advance to the Big Sky tournament. Idaho is currently tied with Weber State for the last spot. EWU and Portland State share sixth at 6-6.
“It’s been a little different (season), something we haven’t been used to,” said Buchanan, whose teams have finished .500 or above in conference every season since 2003. “But our team is growing and getting better week to week.”
Pirates rule NWC again
Whitworth collected another Northwest Conference championship for the trophy case, sealing the title with road wins over closest pursuers Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran last weekend.
“Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran came in and gave us their very best,” coach Kati Bodecker said. “Every single point we had to really earn. Our sheer will and determination was what was most impressive to me.”
The Pirates (19-5, 13-1) have won three straight NWC titles under fourth-year coach Bodecker and eight as a program since 2001. Whitworth visits Whitman on Wednesday prior to a Saturday visit from Lewis & Clark on Senior Night for Haley Vick and Brenna Bruil.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.