It took some searching to find the Idaho Vandals in the Big Sky Conference preseason volleyball poll.
They weren’t in the top half of the 12-team rankings. The coaches pegged the Vandals at No. 7.
They weren’t seventh on Tuesday, midway through the Big Sky schedule. Idaho is riding a five-game winning streak and leads the North Division at 7-1.
“We’re big, we’re doing a lot of things at the net and making it harder for teams with our blocking,” Vandals coach Debbie Buchanan said. “The biggest thing is we have balance. Our middles are putting up big numbers, our pins (outside hitter/opposite hitter), sometimes when everyone is on that’s five kids putting up good numbers.
“If teams are taking away one part of our game, we’re able to capitalize on some others.”
The stats reflect the Vandals’ balanced attack. They lead the Big Sky in hitting percentage (.255) and blocks (2.7 per set).
Middle blockers Torrin Crawford and DeVonne Ryter rank in the top eight in Big Sky hitting percentage and blocks. Haylee Mathis is fourth in assists per set and Freeman High product Kaela Straw is fourth in kills per set. Alycia Wodke is second in digs per set and Maura Donovan (Coeur d’Alene High) is eighth in assists.
Volleyball took a back seat temporarily for Straw last month when news broke of the Freeman school shooting. She was in Moscow when she found out from her parents. Her father, Jim, is Freeman High’s principal.
“My initial thought was thinking about my dad and I know everyone that goes to school there,” Straw said. “I was praying everyone was OK.”
Straw went home that night before accompanying the Vandals on a road trip to Santa Clara, California, for a tournament.
“Honestly, the way the community bounced back was amazing,” said Straw, who has a Freeman Strong T-shirt, sweatshirt and bracelet.
This is a big week for the Vandals, who entertain South Division-leading Sacramento State (17-7, 8-0) on Thursday and Portland State (15-5, 6-2) on Saturday. The team with the best conference mark earns the right to host the Big Sky Tournament. Idaho is 4-0 at Memorial Gym this season.
“It’s always nice being at home,” Straw said. “We’re hoping to be able to host the Big Sky Tournament. That would be very exciting.”
Washington State (13-7, 2-6 Pac-12) has dropped five of its last six to fall into a three-way tie with Cal and Arizona for ninth place in the Pac-12. The Cougars visit the Bears on Friday and No. 2 Stanford on Saturday. … Gonzaga (11-9. 6-2) absorbed road losses to West Coast Conference powers San Diego and BYU last week. The third-place Zags visit Portland on Saturday. … Eastern Washington (6-11, 3-5 Big Sky), which has lost five of six, entertains Portland State on Thursday and Sacramento State on Saturday. … North Idaho College (21-5, 11-0) retained its hold on first place in the Northwest Athletic Conference East Region. Columbia Basin (11-1) is second, followed by Community Colleges of Spokane (7-3). The Sasquatch entertain Walla Walla at 6 Wednesday. … Whitworth is going to need some help to extend its three-year streak of Northwest Conference championships. The Pirates (11-7, 8-2) fell in five sets last week to visiting Pacific Lutheran (15-3, 9-1), giving the Lutes a sweep of the season series and the head-to-head tiebreaker. The NWC doesn’t have a conference tournament. The regular-season champion advances to the D3 national tournament.
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