COEUR d’ALENE — In its first match after rising to No. 1 in the NJCAA volleyball poll, the North Idaho College volleyball team came out Thursday night and played out of character, in the words of their coach.
After a strong start, the Cardinals fell to No. 7 Salt Lake Community College 19-25, 25-21, 22-25, 25-15, 15-8 at Christianson Gym in the Scenic West Athletic Conference opener for both schools.
“We kind of went away from what our whole game plan has been all season,” NIC coach Kandice Gregorak said, pointing to subpar serve-receive and 30 hitting errors. “Usually we’re the team that gets the ball in play and then lets the other team make the errors. I think we just played out of character for what we have been playing all season.”
Yang Yang and HayleeMae Dennis each had 11 kills for NIC (12-1), which totaled 37 kills for a hitting percentage of .054.
Salt Lake (16-3) had a little more power, led by the 14 kills from outside hitter Maddie Bushman and 12 more from Colombian middle blocker Mayra Ramirez, mostly on quick sets and slides. Bailee Kendall, another outside, added nine kills as Salt Lake totaled 51 kills and hit .188.
The Bruins turned to depth to bounce back from a first game plagued by poor passing.
“We’ve got a pretty good bench, and there have been people on this team stepping up at various times throughout this season,” Salt Lake coach Sue Dulaney said. “We have 10 freshmen, and when we need somebody, we pull somebody in off the bench and they are coming through for us.”
On this night, one of those freshmen coming off the bench was Anyssa Matheson, a Worley resident who played at Coeur d’Alene High, and had a vocal cheering section in NIC’s gym. Matheson played a role in Salt Lake’s comeback, finishing with eight kills, including one to end the second game and square the match at one game each.
“It means the world to me; it was the most exciting game I’ve ever played in, said the 5-foot-10 Matheson, who entered late in the first game and played a good chunk of the rest of the match. “I saw all my friends here, and all my family, and I was pumped — ready to go. I haven’t been playing a lot, and I knew when I got in there it was my one and only chance to show what I can do. And to do it in front of my friends and family is just icing on the cake.”
“She’s been progressively getting better and better,” Dulaney said of Matheson. “I know she’s got an arm, and she can jump. I think it’s been great for her to see her family, and of course there’s that ‘I definitely want to play well and make my family proud of me.’”
NIC built a two-games-to-one lead, but Salt Lake took control early in the fourth game, and had NIC on the defensive the rest of the way. Kills by Bushman, the Bruins’ top hitter, ended the fourth game as well as the deciding game.
Setter Cortney Godfrey had 37 assists and a team-high 15 digs for Salt Lake, which played a No. 1 team for the third straight week, beating Tyler (Texas) two weeks ago, and losing to Iowa Western last week.
Brooklyn Bradbury had 15 assists, Allison Meehan 14 for NIC. Dennis had 12 digs, Bradbury 10 as the Cardinals played strong defense until late. Yang had five blocks.
Gregorak said it wasn’t a case of NIC getting big-headed over being No. 1.
“If anything, I don’t think we acted confident out there on the court, which was weird, considering we were ranked No. 1,” she said. “Their presence was like, heads down, like they were afraid to make a mistake, and when you’re afraid to make a mistake, you make them. Hopefully it’s a good lesson; hopefully we learned from it.”
NIC plays host to 16th-ranked Snow on Saturday.
SHAWN GUST/Press HayleeMae Dennis returns the ball for the Cardinals in the third set.