Volleyball Upsets #19 Santa Barbara, Tops Cal Poly

Since my last update, the University of Idaho has done some tremendous things on the volleyball court. A 6-game win streak, including rival wins over BSU in Boise, Gonzaga and Utah State at home, and Washington State in Pullman (first time in 14 years). Most impressively, the Vandals upset the 19th ranked team in the land, UC Santa Barbara (current Big West Conference #1) and are playing very good volleyball. The victory was the first EVER for the Vandals over the volleyball national powerhouse.

The Coaches
Head coach Debbie Buchanan and her coaching staff of Ken Murphy and Corie Isaacson have been doing a remarkable job at returning the Vandal program into a national power. The St. Maries native is in her third year and has improved the team each year. The Strength of Schedule has improved greatly in the past three years and the level of play and athleticism on the team is equal if not greater than any Vandal team that has ever played.

The Rankings
Currently, the BCR (Ballicora Computer Rankings, hosted by volleyball guru Rich Kern at http://www.richkern.com/) has Idaho ranked #52 (not counting the UCSB or Cal Poly wins yet, which will propel them). From my observations, the BCR has been very successful in predicting eligible NCAA tournament teams by their ranking better than 60. The Big West Conference is currently second in the nation in power ratings, as well, only behind the Pac-10, which is perennially the most dominant volleyball conference.

There has been a buzz in the volleyball community about the Vandals and the fear they continue to instill into the hearts of opponents. Vandal fans, you've got a great team that is only getting better every game of every match.

Vandals in the NCAA?
Currently, the Idaho Vandals are 15-10 overall and 6-8 in the Big West. With 4 remaining matches (including Friday's match-up on the road with Cal State Fullerton) the Vandals have a solid chance at making the NCAA tournament. If they win out, or get a little bit of help, I'd expect them to have a great case for it.

Players to Watch
The Vandals have been led by the play of their middle blockers, Anna-Marie Hammond and Sara Meek. Hammond is averaging 4.61 kills per game at a very respectable 0.317 clip (good for 7th in the Big West). Meek is contributing 3.25 kills per game at a 0.274 percentage. If you're looking for a comparison of hitting average, compare the numbers to baseball's hitting average for good numbers. Both blockers are also averaging more than 1.3 blocks per game as well, good for 2nd and 4th in the conference.

Jessica Yearout, a 5' 7" libero from St. Maries, Idaho, is sitting in 3rd place overall in the conference with 4.17 digs per game. She leads the conference in conference-only matches with 4.64 digs per game. Yearout had 30 digs in a 4-game match against UC Santa Barbara, which led the Idaho defensive effort against a scrappy Gaucho team. Idaho's defense and blocking are also a big reason that Idaho is holding opponents to a 0.178 hitting percentage against them. Good for 1st place in that category.

Idaho is quarterbacked by Mandy Becker. The 5-9 junior setter from Ft. Collins, Colorado had 62 assists against UC Santa Barbara and is one of the most fiery and athletic setters in the conference. She single-handedly picked up her team and led them in the upset win over Washington State. A bright fire was licking in her eyes as she refused to let the Cougars win in the waning moments of the fifth game in Pullman.

A Canadian Connection? You could call it that. Three Vandal volleyball players are from the land up north. Sara Meek, a 6-1 junior Middle and the Brown sisters, 6-1 sophomore Meghan and 6-0 freshman Saxony often see time at the net together in Idaho's rotation. Meghan Brown starts as an Outside Hitter and sister Saxony Brown often starts at the Right-side position. They might make the Queen proud, but they make a Vandal fan prouder with their fighting spirit and great volleyball contributions.

Nothing makes these girls smile bigger or fires them up faster than some of their incredible kills and digs or perfect sets and breath-taking saves. The Vandal spirit lives deep within these ladies' hearts and they show it on the court every chance they get.

Support the Vandals
If you're around for any of these matches, I implore you to visit the gym and cheer for the Vandals. I can assure you that in few other sports can the crowd's action and reaction help a team as much as volleyball. You'll also have a chance to see the Idaho pep band cheering on the ladies. I can assure you, there is no other pep band as fond of their volleyball team than in Moscow, Idaho.

Take a minute and check out the website at: http://www.uiathletics.com/pages/sport.asp?CatID=13. Even better, take an hour or so and stop in on an exciting volleyball match in one of the best sites in the nation to take in the sport. I have never brought a friend to a volleyball match who has not enjoyed the experience.

Remaining Schedule
11/14/2003 Cal State Fullerton, Fullerton, CA, 7 p.m.
11/15/2003 UC Riverside, Riverside, CA, 7 p.m.
11/20/2003 Cal State Northridge, Memorial Gym, 7 p.m.
11/22/2003 Pacific, Memorial Gym, 7 p.m.

Home matches in bold.

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