The Idaho State University volleyball team is serving up some stiff competition this year as the players set themselves up for a chance to compete in the NCAA tournament.
The Bengals, with a 23-10 record, finished second in the Big Sky’s south division last season.
“Our success is driven from the girls’ desire to want to be their best and their desire to want to be challenged daily,” said head coach Rick Reynolds. “We talk a lot in recruiting that if you’re afraid to grow, afraid to fail or afraid to be challenged, then Idaho State isn’t for you.”
Reynolds arrived at ISU after a career at Western Wyoming Community College. In his seven years with the Mustangs, he led the team to a 197-87 record in addition to second and third place finishes at the National Junior College Athletic Association National Championships.
His success followed him to ISU. His first season ended with a 23-10 overall record while going 13-3 in conference play. He then led the Bengals to the championship match of the Big Sky tournament for the fourth season in a row.
The 2016 season looked a bit uncertain as the team lost three seniors in May, but the incoming players have shown promise. The Bengals were picked to finish fourth in the conference this season.
“The biggest thing we’re looking forward to with this team is the depth of the team being stronger, which is just going allow us to be less one dimensional and spread out our offense more,” said Reynolds.
Leading the way is a player who has left a permanent mark in ISU history. That player is senior Hayley Farrer.
“I joined the team for the culture,” said Farrer. “It’s a wonderful environment and a very family-oriented team, which is what I was looking for.”
The 2016 season marks Farrer’s fifth year on the team, and her third year as team setter. Last season, she finished ranked sixth in ISU history in assists in a single season. Farrer finished her fourth season with 112 kills, 294 digs, 71 blocks and 1,299 assists. In addition, she earned the title of Big Sky Player of the Week on Oct. 12, 2015.
“This season I’m really looking forward to enjoying my teammates and helping the team take care of some unfinished business,” said Farrer. “Returning to the Big Sky Championships and the NCAA is our ultimate goal.”
As a captain, Farrer will always be remembered by her teammates, but the number 13 will be remembered by many ISU volleyball players yet to come.
Freshmen Haylie Kack, currently an outside hitter and Bonneville High School alum, holds the record for kills and aces at Bonneville and helped her team to three state titles, one at the 5A level and two at the 4A. Keck also helped her club team to two separate national rankings.
“High school volleyball is a lot slower than college volleyball,” said Keck. “You have to be technique-oriented to be a good player.”
At ISU, Keck will continue to improve her skills as the team tries to return to the championship.
The returning players have a large amount of skill to offer as well. Senior Bailey Bars is one such example. Bars is a four-year starter and has worked to set herself up for success.
In the 2015 season alone, she finished the season with 230 kills, 276 digs, 56 blocks, 28 service aces and 19 assist. Bars was ranked fourth on the team in attacks, kills, service aces and points. She was named MVP of the Boise State Invitational and earned Second Team All-Conference honors.
“I’m really looking forward to traveling this season,” said Bars. “It’s really fun to play against teams on the East Coast.”
This will be the last year on the team for Bars, leaving the next player to wear the number eight uniform with some very big shoes to fill.
Sophomore setter Ashlyn Van Every, who was redshirted her first year, became a more consistent player throughout her time on the team. While last year she only saw action in nine matches, Van Every is working hard to become the best player she can be.
“People need to know that volleyball players aren’t just cute girls in spandex,” said Van Every. “We’re going to be good.”
Everyone on the team plays a pivotal role in the game. The role of defensive specialist, also known as libero, only goes to a select few.
Sophomore Alexis Patten and freshman Kayla Ledezma are tasked with that all-important role this season.
Patten played in eight matches last season, but as the more experienced of the two, she will have many opportunities to improve throughout the season.
“Your eye work and reading the game is really important,” said Patten. “You have to rely on your team a lot and be encouraging.”
Ledezma may not have as much experience as Patten, but she certainly brings her own skills to the table.
While attending Artesia High School in New Mexico, Ledezma was a four-year varsity starter and named All-District four-straight seasons. She helped Artesia to a number one state ranking in 2014 and appearances at state competition four years in a row.
“We’re always getting better and always pushing each other to be the best we can be,” said Patten.
The season began with an Orange and Black Scrimmage on Aug. 19 at 7 p.m. in Reed Gym. The girls played fiercely against one another, and the scrimmage provided an opportunity to see where the team can grow.
Throughout the scrimmage, the girls showed great communication on the court, which helped them cover holes in their defense when needed.
“We still need to work on our covering and blocking,” said Reynolds. “We just need to teach the girls to trust their instincts.”
The scrimmage gave the assistant coaches an opportunity to get some practice in a real game setting. Reynolds mainly supervised, allowing assistant coaches to really take control.
The girls were fiercely competitive while on the court, and they proved they are competition-ready.
“We came out and did things well, and it’s good to see the things that need fine-tuning,” said Bars.
The next home volleyball game will be the Idaho State Invitational (ISI) from Sept. 8-10. There is one match per day, and each match starts at 7 p.m.
The first match is between ISU and Boise State University. The other two teams competing in the ISI are Brigham Young University and Missouri. Fans are always encouraged to come and support their Bengals.
“[The fans] are a huge part of who we are,” said Farrer. “They contribute more energy than they even understand.”
Whether or not more Bengals make history, they have certainly proven themselves as worthy competition throughout the country. Everyone at ISU should be cheering this team on throughout the season.
“Our goals haven’t changed,” said Reynolds. “We’re going to count on that core group to know what it takes to get to the NCAA tournament.”