BOISE, Idaho--The Boise State volleyball team continues a three-game road trip with a lone match this Saturday at San Jose State.
The Spartans suffered a tough season last year, when they were 4-27, but after one run through the schedule this year, every Mountain West Conference team is well aware of the vast improvement made. San Jose State battled the Broncos hard on October 8 in Boise before falling 25-22, 25-16, 25-12, and they no doubt are anxious to see how they fare at home.
The Broncos, meanwhile, are fighting for respect, the kind that the NCAA Volleyball Tournament Selection Committee has for those it extends at-large invitations to. Barring a late-season collapse by #15 Colorado State (Boise State is three games behind the Rams), Coach Shawn Garus' team is trying to maintain their second-place standing in conference play and trying to impress the committee. The Tournament consists of 32 teams which receive automatic conference berths and 32 at-large teams.
Just as in basketball, the committee looks at RPI numbers, and a weekly check of those rankings shows Boise State up slightly to #50. Given that there are 64 teams in the tournament each year, and that there are inevitable upsets in postseason tournaments, #50 might be too low for the Broncos. Since the Mountain West discontinued postseason tournaments in volleyball, Boise State doesn't have a chance to win its tournament and automatically qualify. So the Broncos must do the next best thing--win and do so convincingly.
The NCAA field will be announced Sunday, November 29.
(BroncoCountry video provided by Doc Barnes)
Boise State was in danger of being swept last Thursday by Fresno State, but the Broncos staved off three match points in the third set to survive, and pulled off a classic five-set win over the Bulldogs. Junior blocker Maddy O'Donnell was spectacular for Boise State down the stretch and hit home the game-winner for the Broncos. "She just couldn't be stopped," senior setter Sarah Baugh said of O'Donnell.
"She's an adrenalin player," Garus said. "I have a lot of confidence in her ability to perform at big moments and I know our setter does as well. She had to adjust what she was doing offensively during that match and was able to score late in the match really, really consistently for us."
Garus also praised the work of sophomore libero Maddi Osburn, whose 41 digs in the Fresno State match tied a school record. "When you're down," Garus said, "you need your defense to set the tone. We were able to get back in the match led by her great defense."
Baugh continues to enjoy one of the best seasons in school history. Baugh is second in the nation in assists, but as Garus notes, one of the things he and the team will miss the most next year is her leadership.
"I can still kind of hear her talking to the team in the locker room between game 2 and game 3 at Fresno. I appreciate the fire and the energy that she brings and she was a big part of getting the team to turn it around at Fresno."
(BroncoCountry photo by Doc Barnes)
Baugh felt like the Broncos really showed something in that match with their grit and determination.
The Broncos then carried that momentum over to last Saturday, when they defeated UNLV in three sets, ending the Rebels' ten-match home winning streak. Freshman Sabryn Roberts played error-free ball in leading Boise State to the victory.
"Sabryn was great at UNLV," Garus said. "She's trying to play multiple positions for us right now. She's just proving herself to be a really valuable weapon offensively, so we're trying to get her involved more and more."
"You can go to her anytime you need someone to hit the ball hard. She's fun to watch. She's really smart; she's incorporated a lot into her game. She's just a really good option for us out there," Baugh said, "especially when we have really good middles firing to throw the ball into her--it's like wide open and she pounds it."
Garus and his team are taking each match one at a time, and to accomplish their goals, they will have to go through San Jose State. In Boise, the Broncos played one of their most error-free matches of the year, with just 10 attack errors to 16 for the Spartans. Hana Tresnakova, Tyanna Roy and Sara Hibbs did the most damage for San Jose State in Bronco Gym, with the trio combining for 28 kills.
Garus noted that the Spartans played that match without one of their Brazilian outside hitters but still kept the first set close. Garus said that it was the Broncos' serving and passing that kept San Jose State at bay and allowed the Broncos to separate from them and get the win.
"I'm thrilled with where we're at," Garus said. "We're 17 and 7. We're sitting alone in second place in the Mountain West. We're in the mix and we're playing important matches down the stretch of November. I think we're primed to play our best volleyball down the stretch."
First serve in San Jose is set for 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon.