Vandal Women Dominate, Men Struggle

Idaho Women's Volleyball team goes on tear to end season, makes the first round of NCAA Tournament…….Idaho Women's Basketball team makes statement…….Idaho Men's Basketball team struggles in early schedule…..looking back on football homecoming, 1948.


(AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
Idaho's Kati Tikker goes up for a block in the second match against Hawai'i during the first round of the NCAA Division I tournament in Honolulu, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2003.

It was actually difficult deciding which story to lead with in this edition of the Gargoyle Gazzette. Women's hoops or Women's volleyball? Both are solid programs right now. However, we have to tip our hats to the Women's Volleyball Team first, because they not only ended one of Idaho's most successful campaign's in the Big West ever, but also made a statement about the direction the program is headed by making the final 64-team field and receiving an invitation to the NCAA Volleyball Tournament as the 6th team chosen from the Big West Conference. There really isn't enough that can be said about the accomplishments of third year head coach Debbie Buchanan, who inherited a decimated team and has converted it into one of the rising units of the Big West.

This season they jumped out early and stunned UConn by winning the tournament in Connecticut. They beat Gonzaga, Montana, and swept Northern Arizona and BSU both times they met this year. In league play, the Vandals got off to a slow start, but ended the season on a fire storm, winning 12 of their last 14 matches.

For their effort, the Vandals finished fifth in the perennially powerful Big West. They ended the season with a 19-10 overall mark and 10-8 in Conference, with huge victories over UC Santa Barbara (19-9, 14-4 BWC, Conference Champs) and UC Irvine (24-10, 12-6 BWC, Conference #2). They also split matches with Utah State and Pacific.

As far as individual honors, middle blockers Anna-Marie Hammond and Sarah Meek were both named to the 2003 Big West All-Conference First Team. This was Hammond's second consecutive Big West First Team selection, and the first for Meek. Junior setter Mandy Becker was also earned Honorable Mention All-Conference recognition.

However, the ultimate honor was being recognized as one of the top teams in America by being invited to participate in the NCAA 64-team Tournament this year. An appropriate honor for a group that beat the top teams in the conference and won 6 in a row to close out the regular season. As one of the final team selected, Idaho drew one of the top teams in the Country, a date to play power-house Hawai'i (32-1, #2 in the Nation) on the islands. In addition to enjoying the unexpected road-trip to the tropics, the Vandals also made their presence known in a scrappy battle against the overpowering Rainbow Wahine, led by senior All-American Kim Willoughby who served up half a dozen aces and 10 kills in front of 6,430 home fans. They battled to a 22-22 tie in the first game before falling 30-24. The next 2 games were dominated by Hawai'i, but Idaho never gave up as the Wahine went to win 30-20 and 30-21.

The team did an outstanding job representing Idaho this season and in the tournament, making all Vandal fans proud of their efforts. Congratulations on an outstanding season!


(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Idaho's Heather Thoelke battles for a loose ball during the first half of their Big West Conference tournament game in Anaheim, Calif. on Wednesday, March 12, 2003.

If the Women's Volleyball team was struggling before Buchanan, then the basketball team Coach Divilbiss inherited was a train wreck. When Coach D arrived at the end of March 2001, Idaho had just finished a 7-21 campaign. His first year saw Idaho improve slightly to 11-16 as 3 players were named to the All Conference Team, but the overhaul was well on its way as he hit the recruiting trail hard.

Last season Idaho stayed roughly the same with a season ending mark 10-17, but their mark of 8-8 was Idaho's best finish in BWC competition in 4 years. The team was extremely young, starting at one point 3 freshmen and 1 sophomore. The team had no seniors.

This year, the Women have jumped out to an impressive 5-0 start, with home victories over Portland State (79-66) and Weber State (78-74) to start the season, and road wins over the University of Portland (75-65, played in front of 3,200 mostly Vandal fans at the Tri-Cities Coliseum), Eastern Washington (80-75), and a 71-57 drubbing of Boise State in Boise. Up next Idaho takes on Idaho State (12/13) and Washington State (12/20) at the Cowan Spectrum, then travels to Missoula for the Montana Tournament. Conference play begins at the start of January with a home date against Utah State on January 3rd, followed by 2 more games at the Spectrum (Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara).

Leading the charge for Idaho is sophomore post Emily Faurholt (25 points per game, 6.8 rebounds) and true freshman guard Leilani Mitchell (19 points per game, 5.2 rebounds, 19 steals, 41 assists). Senior post Taylor Benson (11 PPG, 12 steals) and junior wing Heather Thoelke (10 PPG, 6.2 rebounds, 15 steals) round out the top performers this season. The team is still young with just 2 seniors and 6 freshmen. But with the young core of Mitchell and Faurholt, the team appears to be definitely headed in the right direction.

And with their impressive 5-0 start, the future DEFINITELY looks bright for this Divilbiss led team.


(AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
Dandrick Jones, left, fights for a rebound against Gonzaga guard Blake Stepp, right, in the first half Friday, Nov. 21, 2003, in Spokane, Wash.

Coming into this season, Idaho lost sophomore to be guard Ronnie Smith and junior to be guard/forward Sam Jackson. Senior forward/center Jack May was also lost before the season started.

Last night it was reported that Idaho has also lost senior forward/center Jon Tinnon for the remainder of the season due to several nagging injuries.

The team has a solid nucleus of Tyrone Hayes (6-4 forward), Tanoris Shepard (5-11 point guard) and Dwayne Williams (6-1 shooting guard) to build around, but is still searching for the chemistry that has become a characteristic of Coach Leonard Perry's rebuilding effort with this team. Again, as was the case on the Women's side of things, Perry inherited a team sorely lacking in size and depth, and on a nasty losing streak. A train wreck, as was apparently the theme a couple years ago in Moscow.

In both of Perry's first 2 seasons Idaho has exceeded expectations, particularly last year when they finished the season fifth in the Big West with a record of 13-15 (9-9 BWC). Last year they were picked to finish eighth, and instead finished fifth. This year they've been picked to finish fifth, one of Idaho's highest pre-season rankings in the Big West ever.

Off to a rocky start at 1-4, Idaho beat Elon to start the season but has lost three times on the road to South Carolina, Gonzaga, and Montana State, and once at home to BSU last Saturday 81-69. Hayes and Williams are the leading scorers on the team (11 PPG each), while Hayes leads Idaho in rebounding (6.0 RPG). Shepard is averaging 8.2 PPG with 7 assists in 4 starts. Newcomer Dandrick Jones, a 6-4 guard who transferred to Idaho this year from Trinidad State College this year, is averaging almost 10 PPG, has 16 assists, and is shooting 83% from the free throw line in 26 minutes per game.

But the team has struggled in the front court, aside from 6-4 forward Hayes' stellar performance, and the workman effort of senior forward Rashaad Powell (6-4, 205), who is recording 6.4 PPG and 5.8 RPG. Seeing significant time this year at forward are newcomers Lionel Davis (6-8, 245 JC transfer averaging 5 PPG and 4 boards in 3 starts) and Anton Lyons (6-6, 215 JC transfer averaging 4 PPG and 4 boards in 1 start and 21 minutes per game). Sarajevo native Armand Kahrimanovic (6-6, 200 JC transfer) is averaging 6.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, and shooting a stunning 92% from the free throw line.

Davis, Kahrimanovic and Lyons continue to learn the system on the fly, while sophomore David Radlovic (5 PPG, 2.0 RPG) continues to develop his game. With the loss of Tinnon, this relatively young and inexperienced group (Davis, Kahrimanovic, Lyons, and Radlovic, with proven seniors Hayes, and Powell) must shoulder even more of the load. A load that was expected to be shouldered by a couple seniors in Tinnon and May who are no longer with the program.

Up next Idaho will take on the University of Great Falls at the Cowan Spectrum Tuesday night (7:05pm PST), then they head to Boise to take on the Broncos at the Pavilion (6:30pm PST). Idaho then returns to the Palouse to take on the Cougs on 12/20 in Pullman (2pm PST), then round out December by taking on Eastern Washington on 12/28 at the Cowan Spectrum at 7:05pm PST.

The first few weeks of this season have obviously been disappointing. But if the last 2 years are any indication, Perry's team will find a way to rebound from this adversity.

Below is a photo from Idaho's 1948 Homecoming game against Oregon. The Vandals lost 8-15 that day, but looked sporting in their crimson uniforms. Our bet is new Vandal coach Nick Holt might like the look of the Vandal D playin' 8 in the box. On a side note, imagine being able to have that view of the Palouse every weekend now….how nice it would be…..

From this point forward we'll continue to post photographs as part of the Gazette from images submitted by fans. When submitting, if someone has a story with the photo as well, feel free to share.

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