Facing some very tough volleyball teams throughout the season paid big dividends for the Idaho Vandals this weekend as they were selected to an at-large berth in the 2004 NCAA women's volleyball tournament for the second consecutive year. The Vandals will travel to Seattle and face host University of Washington Friday at 7 p.m. at Bank of America Arena. The Pac 10 champion Huskies are seeded 7th in the 64-team tournament.
Coach Debbie Buchanan told the Latah County Vandal Boosters Monday that she wasn't sure what the Vandals' chances were heading into the tournament draw. "Leading up to this weekend we thought when we went on the road we were going to have to be beat Northridge and Pacific," she said. "Then we went to Colorado State and lost in 3 (each of those opponents are in the tournament). We really weren't sure what our odds were...I think last year we had a better feel about making the NCAA tournament because we had won 12 out of our last 14 games. We were on that roll."
Comparing the 2004 Vandals to last year's squad, Buchanan said the records were similar but this year's squad beat more quality opponents which was probably a factor in their selection. "If you look at last year's team compared to this year's, the records are pretty close, but we beat better teams this year than we did last year. I think we battled with teams better. We weren't as up and down as we were last year."
The Vandals faced 9 of the 64 teams in this year's tournament beating 3 of them: UC Santa Barbara, Pacific, and Pittsburg (beating Pitt 3-0 in its own tournament). The Big West placed 3 other teams in the tournament -- UC Irvine, Cal State Northridge, and Cal State Long Beach. Long Beach hosts the tournament finals.
Buchanan feels her squad received a better draw this year. "I think it's a better draw than last year when we had Hawaii, but Washington is a very good team. They won the Pac 10 this year. They did lose their top outside hitter a while ago to a broken hand; so that's going to hurt them a little bit.
"I think we match up really well as a team. They run a fast outside set like we do. They run a quicker lob middle which is similar to what we run, and they've changed that a little bit because they used to run a really fast offense. Their setter is about 5-6; so we have a shorter blocker on the pin for 3 of the rotations which is to our advantage... I think that we have a lot of pluses on our side. Last year...we played really strong at Hawaii. The kids were really excited to go to the NCAA tournament just to play a good team, and I think we're going to be in that same position. I think that our kids are going to be ready to go.
The Vandals hit the practice court Sunday to begin tournament preparations. "We practiced last night," Buchanan said. "The kids are really fresh. They're jumping well; so now we're just looking forward to our match. We play at 7 p.m. The match before that is Kansas and Santa Clara...We're going in as if we're competing for that and hopefully we're going to win that match and will play on Saturday... The kids are fired up. They're ready to go.
The Vandals depart Wednesday for Seattle. "We're leaving on Wednesday, practice there on Thursday, play on Friday, and then we'll go from there."
Vandals face UW in NCAA Tournament
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