The number two seeded Idaho Vandals rallied to overcome three UTSA match points in the tie-breaking fifth set on Tuesday, Nov. 20 in the Convocation Center. The Vandals advance to their first-ever Western Athletic Conference (WAC) finals match.
“We let it get away. It’s right there on our finger tips, and we played some stupid volleyball at the end,” Head Coach Laura Neugebauer-Groff said. “Adams had three swings, and Malloy had two swings but we couldn’t get the kill we needed.”
The Roadrunners cruised to a convincing win in the first set, 25-16. WAC Player of the Year, junior outside hitter McKenzie Adams, led the ‘Runners attack with six kills in the first set.
In the second set, junior setter Brandy Huskey sprained her ankle after landing awkwardly.
“I was hurting the entire time,” Huskey said.
Her perseverance didn’t go unnoticed to her team.
“She’s a fighter, and she did the best she could,” Groff said.
Huskey sat on UTSA’s bench, so the ‘Runners trainer could attend to her injury; the UTSA offense struggled in her absence. The Vandals stormed back to win the second set, 25- 18. Junior outside hitter Allison Walker-Baker’s six kills in the second frame powered the Vandals to their second set victory.
The intensity between the two teams climbed to a fever pitch in the Convocation Center. At the end of four sets, the ‘Runners and Vandals both had two victories each and would have to play a fifth set. The winner would compete for the WAC Conference Championship.
In the fifth set, the ‘Runners jumped to an 11-6 lead over the Vandals and were ready to take their place in the finals.
Idaho called a timeout when UTSA posted a 14-11 lead, but the Vandals refused to quit. UTSA’s Adams and senior middle blocker Brittney Malloy had chances to clinch match point with a kill shot, but unfortunately, the ball couldn’t stay inbounds. Idaho turned to their most dependable weapon, Walker, to bring them back into the game.
The Vandals eventually took a one-point lead, 15-14. On their first opportunity for match point in the set, Walker smashed one more kill shot to complete the shocking Idaho comeback win, 16-14.
“We knew it was going to be a long match in the beginning, but we wanted to fight,” senior Idaho libero Janelle Chow said. “Every little thing counts. There was always a chance, and we never gave up.”
Chow recorded 22 digs and 11 assists in the match, and Walker recorded 29 kills and 19 digs in the Vandals semi-finals victory.
The ‘Runners were heartbroken after the reality of their defeat settled in.
“It’s terrible to end it this way. Ending on a loss is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” senior outside hitter Whitney Walls said. Walls recorded 13 kills and one dig in her final match at UTSA.
The ‘Runners will graduate three seniors next season when UTSA moves into Conference USA: Malloy, Walls and outside hitter Allie Bettinger.
Adams recorded 17 kills and 22 digs, which brings her season total to 21 double-doubles on the year. Huskey played through her painful injury and also recorded a double-double with 36 assists and 13 digs. At the end of the tournament, both Adams and UTSA freshman libero Annie Kunes were both named to the All-WAC Tournament team.
The rest of the UTSA roster is using the loss as motivation for next season.
“We tell the young kids, ‘look at the seniors and see how upset they are, you don’t want to end your senior season that way’,” Groff said.