ISU volleyball: 5th-seeded Bengals open Big Sky tournament Thursday vs. Sac State
Idaho State ground its way to an 18-13 record and went 12-6 in conference play, but none of that matters now. As soon as the Bengals begin Big Sky Conference tournament play against Sacramento State on Thursday, each match carries the weight of potentially being the last of the season.
The Bengals and Hornets are playing the inaugural game of the conference championship, which is hosted by Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. First serve will sail at 10 a.m. inside the Bank of Colorado Arena.
Fans can stream every match of the tournament on Pluto TV Channel 231 and watchbigsky.com. The semifinals and championship match will also be televised on Eleven Sports. Live stats will be provided by the UNC media relations staff.
Where They Stand
Northern Arizona and Idaho both finished 15-3 to stake claim to the regular-season championship. The schools were declared co-champions though the Lumberjacks were awarded the No. 1 seed in the tournament. ISU topped both squads the first time they played this season.
Weber State claimed the third seed and Sacramento State jumped Idaho State for the fourth seed Saturday night. Idaho State enters as the fifth seed and Northern Colorado (No. 6), Montana (No. 7) and Montana State (No. 8) round out the field.
The Matchup This Season
The Hornets swept the Bengals in their first meeting Oct. 11. ISU lost the sets by a combined nine points and Nicole Lee was the only player in orange to reach double figures. Meanwhile, Sac State’s Mikaela Nocetti broke 20 kills and Sarah Davis recorded a double-double with 11 kills and 10 digs.
Sacramento State made the trip to Reed Gym a month later and was handed a loss in return. Abby Garrity was unleashed on the attack and racked up 24 kills on 61 attempts to pair with 17 digs. Raegan Steiner and Lee combined for 23 kills and Chelsea Johnson posted a double-double with 56 assists and 12 digs.
Nocetti and Davis collected 23 and 19 kills, respectively, and Sac State gathered 10 blocks in an attempt to shut down the Bengals once again. The Hornets hit .274 in the match but were unable to slow the hot-hitting Bengals who posted a .331 clip in the match.
Sacramento State holds the edge in the all-time series with 33 wins against Idaho State’s 14. The Hornets won the only meeting at a neutral site.
Garrity has paced Idaho State all season and was recognized as the co-Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player on Tuesday. The first-team all-conference member collected 460 kills and 260 digs this season with an average of 3.97 kills and 2.24 digs per set. She appears in the national rankings six times and holds four top-50 slots.
Taylor Meeks, Brooke Pehrson and Lee all averaged more than two kills per set. Pehrson was named second-team all-conference after quietly having one of the most efficient seasons on the attack in Idaho State history. The junior hit .308 this season and led ISU at the service line with 31 aces. She was anything but quiet on defense, collecting 142 blocks and a career high 92 digs.
Haylie Keck became the first player in Idaho State history to reach 600 digs in a season and the third player to eclipse 1,500 career digs. Her 5.38 digs per set average and 82 assists earned her co-libero of the year and second-team all-conference honors.
Chelsea Johnson was another integral part of ISU’s success as she recorded the eighth-most assists in ISU single-season history. When she wasn’t setting up her teammates, she was finishing points herself. The sophomore setter finished with 61 kills after showing a natural feel for the defensive positioning.
For the Bengals, getting ahead early is key. They are 13-1 after winning the first set and 5-12 after losing it. As is the case with most teams, hitting percentage is also a good predictor of the outcome for ISU’s matches.
Idaho State was a perfect 18-0 when out-hitting its opponent before falling to Montana last Saturday. The Bengals are are also 12-2 when they out-block an opponent and 14-2 when they have fewer errors.
The Bengals generate 13.2 kills, 12.5 assists, 15.0 digs, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 aces per set. They are hitting .232 for the season while limiting opponents to a .200 hitting percentage.
Scouting Sacramento State
Sacramento State is 16-15 overall and 12-6 in conference play. They swept Portland State to snap a three-game losing streak last Tuesday. The fires spreading across California caused Northern Colorado to concede its match against the Hornets on Saturday.
Sacramento State relies heavily on Nocetti and Davis. The duo averages 6.6 of the team’s 12.4 kills per set and corners 56.6 percent of the team’s attacks. Nocetti leads the team with 436 kills despite missing six sets of play this season. Four other players average at least 1.25 kills per set.
Ashlin Olin was one of two setters named to the all-conference team after averaging 10.33 assists and 2.24 digs per set. The freshman also showed prowess at the net with 95 kills and 90 blocks.
Both Lana Brown and Brie Gathright have surpassed 100 blocks this season. Brown tallied 1.23 stuffs per set for the team lead. The Hornets have a strong defense that has limited opponents to a .190 hitting percentage. To pair with its block, Sacramento State has five players averaging a pair of digs or more per set. They have also kept opposing teams on their toes with 1.69 aces per set.
The Hornets produce 12.4 kills, 11.5 assists, 15.7 digs and 2.5 blocks per set. They are coached by Ruben Volta who carries a 181-172 record over 11 seasons.
The winner of this game will play the winner of No. 8 Montana State and No. 1 Northern Arizona.
With the departure of North Dakota, a new Big Sky champion will be crowned for the first time since 2015.