Eagles Poised for Big Sky Debut

Eastern opens 2010 conference season at Portland State in first "Dam Cup" battle of 2010-11 season

After a grueling pre-conference season, the Eastern Washington University soccer team is geared up for the start of Big Sky competition, which begins Friday (Oct. 8) at Portland State. Kickoff for the game at Hillsboro Stadium is scheduled for a 5 p.m. and will mark the first event in the newly created "Dam Cup" rivalry between Eastern Washington and Portland State. After the showdown with the Vikings, Eastern will head south to take on Sacramento State on Sunday (Oct. 10) at 1 p.m.

For the first time in EWU head coach George Hageage's 11-year tenure, the Eagles will enter the Big Sky season without a win on its record. The Eagles are 0-9-1 coming into the weekend, but this mark is not indicative of the quality of play put forth by the squad. Eastern has played two teams ranked in the top 20 nationally, and is one of only two teams in the Big Sky conference whose opponents to date have earned above a .490 winning percentage. The Eags have also played in four overtime matches this season, one of which was against Seattle, who was ranked in the top 10 of the West region in the latest NSCAA poll.

The Eagles also boast one of the top goal scorers in the nation in junior Whitney Brannan. The Kennewick, Wash., native is currently tied for 36th among all Division I players in goals per game average (.700) and tied for 79th in points per game (1.40). Senior Brittany Sparks has also been a major contributor this year, as she has tallied three assists and one goal. Sparks became the all-time leading scorer in Eastern history when she netted her first goal of the season and the 15th of her career in EWU's most recent outing versus Gonzaga.

The Eagles will play the Vikings of Portland State on Friday, who, ironically, have experienced similar early-season struggles as EWU in recent years, but had a major turnaround once Big Sky play began. In 2006, PSU went 0-10-1 in its pre-conference season, but then went on to win four Big Sky matches and advance to the league tournament. Two years later in 2008, the Vikings recorded only one win before conference play began, but then had a stellar Big Sky season that included four wins, two ties and only one loss.

Currently, the Vikings hold a 4-7-1 overall record in 2010. Three of those losses came to schools that also upset Eastern earlier this year, including Gonzaga, Idaho and Seattle.

"When you look at the wins and losses of the teams around the conference, you realize that we are not at all behind," said Hageage. "Most BSC teams have had similar results against opponents that we share, and we feel our overall preseason schedule was certainly one of the toughest in the league. The girls are still determined and I am encouraged by what I've seen in our recent contests. We looked completely competent for the first 70 minutes against the nationally-ranked team from USC and played a very solid first half at Gonzaga. We just need to maintain that confidence and assertiveness for an entire 90 minutes."

In the most recent meeting between the Vikings and Eagles, the teams battled to a 1-1 draw in a double-overtime contest, which was the fourth OT game played in the series history. Senior Brittany Sparks scored the goal for Eastern, while PSU's Toni Carnovale netted an equalizer in the final minute of regulation. Portland State holds a 9-3-1 advantage in the all-time series, including a 5-1 edge in games play at Hillsboro Stadium.

Eastern will play its second of seven conference games on Sunday, when it faces Sacramento State at Hornet Soccer Field. Sac State is 3-6-1 on the season, after having dropped its two most recent contests to CSU-Bakersfield and Seattle, both of whom were teams on Eastern's 2010 schedule as well. The Eagles tied with Bakersfield in their first contest of the season, while falling by a slim one-goal margin to Seattle in double overtime.

Sac State holds a slight 7-4-1 advantage in the all-time series with Eastern, which includes a 4-2-1 mark in games played in Sacramento. However, in the most recent meeting in 2009, the Eags topped the Hornets 1-0 with a goal off the foot of Brannan in the 51st minute. Similar to Brannan's offensive leadership for the Eagles this season, the Hornets also boast a high-scoring forward in Leah Larot. Larot has tallied seven goals in 2010, which ties with Brannan for the most in the conference.

THE DAM CUP - The Eastern Washington University Eagles and the Portland State University Vikings will begin a five-sport rivalry cup called The Dam Cup in 2010-11. The Dam Cup will celebrate the friendly rivalry between the states of Oregon and Washington within the Big Sky Conference. The so-named rivalry refers to the four dams linking Oregon and Washington that one passes on the 339-mile drive from the Portland State campus to the Eastern Washington campus. Located along the Columbia River, they are Bonneville Dam, The Dalles Dam, The John Day Dam and the McNary Dam. The five sports competing for the cup are football, women's soccer, women's volleyball, women's basketball and men's basketball. The Dam Cup is based on a point system, with points only rewarded for regular season contests. Friday's soccer match will be worth one point toward the school's total for the 2010-11 season.

Eagle News & Notes

Record-Setting Sparks - Senior Brittany Sparks scored her first goal of the 2010 season against Gonzaga on Oct. 3. With that tally, the senior became the all-time leading scorer in Eastern Washington history with 15 career goals. Prior to the game on Oct. 3, the Kennewick, Wash., native was tied with former Eagle, Cyeeta Mott, for the school record at 14, but she nabbed the title outright with her tally in the third minute of the contest. She also became the all-time leading point earner at Eastern, as she has now compiled 36 total points in her career (15 goals, 6 assists). In addition to owning two career records, Sparks is the school record-holder for single-season goals (11), points (22) and game winners (3), all of which she achieved during her stellar junior campaign.

Walker Collects Double-Digit Saves against Bulldogs - EWU goalkeeper Jamie Walker picked up 10 saves in Eastern's match against Gonzaga on Oct. 3, which marked a career high for the sophomore. The Bulldogs fired 19 total shots in the second half of the game, but did not convert a single one thanks to the relentless defense exhibited by Walker. The Graham, Wash., native has played 679:10 minutes in Eastern's 10 games this season, collecting 54 total saves, which ranks third in the conference. She averages 5.40 saves per game, which also ranks third in the BSC.

Brannan Tabbed as Big Sky Player of the Week - Whitney Brannan was recognized as the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week (Sept. 21) for her stellar performances in South Dakota on Sept. 17 and 19. Brannan scored four goals over the weekend, which included her first-career hat trick against South Dakota State on Sept. 19. With her three-goal performance in Brookings, S.D., Brannan broke the EWU single-game scoring record of two, which had been achieved 11 times in history, one of which was by Brannan last season. Although the Eagles fell in double-overtime in the match against SDSU., Brannan's goals kept EWU in the game, as she was able to answer every tally put up by the Jackrabbits. Brannan also notched Eastern's only goal versus South Dakota on Sept. 17. She took five total shots in that contest, three of which were on frame. The Kennewick, Wash., native has now recorded seven goals in 2010 and 13 total in her career, which ranks third on Eastern's all-time career scoring list. Brannan is second in the conference in points per game (1.40) and tied for first in goals per game (0.78). She is also tied for the top spot in total goals with seven on the season. In addition to her dominance within the conference, Brannan also appears in the national ranks, as her goals per game average of 0.70 is tied for 36th among all Division I athletes, while her points per game average of 1.40 is tied for 79th out of 150 ranked players.

Brannan and Huff on Conference Watch List - According to TopDrawerSoccer.com, sophomore Whitney Brannan and junior Dashia Huff are among the top 20 players in the Big Sky Conference. In the most recent list, updated on Monday, Oct. 4, Brannan was tabbed as the No. 10 player in the conference, while Huff appeared at No. 19. Brannan has scored seven goals for the Eagles this season and leads the team in total shots with 30, 16 of which have been on frame. Huff transferred to EWU this season from Walla Walla CC, where she earned NWAACC All-Star honors in 2009. Huff has started as a member of Eastern's back line in all 10 games of the 2010 season.

Eagles Picked Sixth in BSC Preseason Poll - Similar to the start of last year's storybook season, Eastern was picked sixth in the 2010 Big Sky Preseason Coaches' Poll. Last year, the Eagles were selected eighth in the preseason rankings, but proved the pollsters wrong when they claimed runner-up honors in the regular season with an impressive 4-2-1 conference record. That mark in league play was the best for the Red and White since the 2004 campaign. Including last year's run, EWU has advanced to the BSC tournament four of the last eight seasons.

Hageage Added to NCAA Regional Advisory Committee - EWU head coach George Hageage was recently appointed to the NCAA Regional Advisory Committee for the Pacific Region. Hageage was nominated for the position by Big Sky Conference Associate Commissioner Ron Loghry. As a member of the committee, Hageage will provide guidance to the governing committee of NCAA Division I soccer for rankings of the top 10 teams in the Pacific Region. Hageage, who is in his 11th year at the helm of the EWU women's soccer program, is also a national staff member of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, where he contributes a vote in the accredited Top 25 poll -- released each week on NSCAA.com.

Martin's Laudable Leadership - Senior defender Lyndsey Martin was recently named co-captain for the 2010 soccer season. Martin joins Brittany Sparks and Lacey Schreiner as the senior leaders of the Eagle soccer program, both on and off the field. Martin has started all 10 games of the 2010 campaign as the central defender for EWU, and is among the top three players on the team for minutes played so far in the season. Martin earned All-Big Sky honorable mention accolades during her sophomore campaign in 2008, and has tallied one goal and one assist in her career.

Freshmen Firepower - The EWU women's soccer team has relied heavily on its freshmen contingent for valuable minutes off the bench this season. Nine different freshmen have played in at least one game for the Eagles, while two have appeared in all 10. In Eastern's 2010 home openers versus Seattle (Sept. 3) and UC-Irvine (Sept. 5), two different freshman earned points for the team. Hannah Scott was credited with an assist in the game against Seattle, while Erin Bourguignon notched her first-career goal with the Eagles in the showdown with UC-Irvine. Bourguignon has taken 18 total shots this season, which ranks second on the team. Seven of her 18 shots have been on frame, while she is just one of three Eagles who have scored a goal this season. Cheney native Tanya Baker has also been a constant in the Eagle lineup, as she has appeared in seven of Eastern's nine games thus far, including a start in the midfield versus Cal State Fullerton on Aug. 29. Freshmen Melissa Bishop and Hannah Scott, two Oregon natives, have played in eight of Eastern's 10 games this season.

It's a Family Affair - The Eastern Washington Eagles have a long history of "soccer sisters." This year, the team features one set of sisters in Whitney and Brianna Brannan. Throughout history, the Eagles have had three sets of twins on the team, including two at the same time. Cynita and Cyeeta Mott and Jennifer and Kim McMullen all played on the field together during the 2004 season. In addition to siblings, the EWU coaching staff is a full-family effort. Head coach George Hageage and assistant coach Tamara Hageage have been married for 10 years, while George's father, George Jr., has served as volunteer assistant coach for the last seven seasons.

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