Eagles Open 2010 Season with Trio of Matches in Seattle

Eastern to face No. 8 Huskies at The Invitational at Seattle, Wash.

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The Eastern Washington University volleyball squad kicks off its 2010 campaign this weekend (Aug. 27-28) with a trip to the West side, as it takes on Mercer, Seattle and preseason No. 8 Washington at The Invitational at Seattle, Wash. The first two games will take place at the Connolly Center at Seattle University, while the final contest against the Huskies will be played at the Hec-Edmunson Pavilion on the campus of the University of Washington.

The Eagles will take the court against the Bears on Friday (Aug. 27) at 11 a.m., marking the first matchup in history for the two programs. EWU will then battle Seattle on Saturday (Aug. 28) at 11 a.m., which will be just the second meeting for the teams in the last two decades. Eastern does have the edge, as they defeated the Redhawks in 2008 by a score of 3-0 (25-19, 25-14, 25-22).

Although a bit more familiar with the Huskies, having played them nine times in history, Eastern will not be facing an easy task in its final match of the tournament, as UW was picked eighth in the 2010 AVCA Preseason Poll. The Huskies, who have made 14 NCAA appearances, including the last eight-consecutive years, hold a 6-3 advantage over the Eagles in the all-time series. However, the two teams have not met since the 1998 season, when Eastern defeated UW, 3-1.

“The game against the Huskies will no doubt be challenging,” said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. “But as is the case every year, we look forward to playing as many quality teams as possible in the early season. We do this because it not only helps prepare us for our Big Sky schedule, but it also benefits our long-term goals and the overall development of the program. It is my hope to eventually be one of those teams ranked in the Top 25, and in order to do that, we need to continue to play against the best.”

Eastern returns nine letterwinners from the 2009 roster, including two starters in Chenoa Coviare and Jacque Brown. Coviare was an All-Big Sky first-team selection, as well as a BSC All-Tournament team member in 2009. The Eagles will rely on their two senior captains to lead the team in Seattle, especially in light of a few early-season injuries to a few other important members.

“I just want our girls to go out and compete hard,” said Kydd. “Our lineup may look a different than what we were expecting heading into the season, but we will not make any excuses. This will be a great opportunity to grow as a team, but our ultimate goal will be the same as it always is – to win matches.”

Live Stats

All of Eastern’s games at The Invitational at Seattle, Wash., can be followed via live stats. Just go to www.goeags.com and click the live stats link within the volleyball schedule! You can also follow the Eagles this season on Twitter - http://twitter.com/EagleVolleyball

Notes

Eagles Ranked Fourth in BSC Preseason Poll - For the third-straight year, the Eastern Washington volleyball squad was ranked among the top four teams in the Big Sky Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Eastern was picked fourth this season, behind co-favorites Portland State and Montana, and 2009 BSC Tournament Champion Northern Colorado. EWU has made 14 consecutive appearances in the BSC tournament, including two title runs in 1989 and 2001.

Portland State Preview - Although the Eagles will not play Portland State until Oct. 9 as part of the the Big Sky season, Eastern will get a chance to scout the Vikings, as they too, will be participating in The Invitational at Seattle, Wash. PSU was picked as the co-favorite in the 2010 BSC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The Vikings won the regular-season title a year ago with a record of 14-2 and will host the 2010 BSC Tournament on Nov. 26-27.

Chenoa Shines at the Net - So far in her three-year career, Chenoa Coviare has tallied 367 total blocks, which ranks fifth on EWU’s all-time records list. Last season alone, she recorded a team-leading 144 blocks, which was the fourth-best single-season performance in program history. If Chenoa can continue on that track during her senior year, she will become the all-time leading blocker in Eastern history.  She needs only 141 blocks to nab the record outright!

Puckett Receives Emtman Award - Sophomore Shelby Puckett received the 2010 Volleyball Emtman Award for her superior work in the weight room during the spring season. The Emtman Award, administered by head strength and conditioning coach Jeff Carroll, recognizes one volleyball student-athlete each year who exhibits strong work ethic, perseverance, character and a team-first attitude. Puckett will be the starting right-side hitter for the Eagles this season. She was the only true freshman to see playing time in 2009, recording 64 kills and 23 blocks. Puckett was the top performer in Eastern’s preseason scrimmage last weekend (Saturday, Aug. 21), as she tallied 21 kills in four sets.

Eagles Honored by AVCA - EWU earned the America Volleyball Coaches Association Team Academic Award for its triumphs in the classroom during the 2009-10 school year. The AVCA Team Academic Awardhonors collegiate and high school volleyball teams that displayed excellence in the classroom during the year by maintaining at least a 3.30 cumulative team grade-point average on a 4.0 scale or a 4.10 team GPA on a 5.0 scale. Head coach Miles Kydd’s team compiled an impressive 3.54 cumulative GPA during the 2009-10 academic year. In addition to the national recognition, the Eags also distinguished themselves in the Big Sky Conference, as 11 members were named to the 2009 BSC All-Academic team; the most for any volleyball squad in the league.

2010 Season Outlook

It would seem that with the loss of a starting setter, left-side hitter, defensive specialist and libero, the Eastern Washington University Eagles would be facing a difficult task for the 2010 season, but the experience and versatility of the returning members gives head coach Miles Kydd and the entire Eagle volleyball program great promise for the new year.

Eastern will return two starters from the 2009 squad, as well as seven other letter winners and two redshirts. To round out a talented 16-person roster, EWU will welcome five newcomers to the mix.

“We lost some key players who have held important roles for us the past few years,” said Kydd. “But we are also returning several strong athletes who can do a variety of things on the court. It will be a slightly different team concept in how we approach the game, but I really like where we are and I believe our chemistry is actually stronger than it has been in the past.”

 After coming up just short of an NCAA Tournament bid in 2008 and 2009, the Eagles will strive to claim its first Big Sky Conference title since 2001 and the third in school history. This goal is certainly within reach, as the Eagles have finished in the top three of the BSC for 14-consecutive years and advanced to the championship match in eight of the last 10 seasons. But in order to make the break through in the postseason, the Eagles will have to fill the holes left by three-time All-BSC First-Team selection Hayley Hills and two-time All-BSC setter Ashley Hamilton.

“Hayley and Ashley were on the court together for almost three years,” said Kydd. “They were very comfortable with one another and had a good sense of each other’s offensive and defensive styles. It will be difficult to immediately replace that duo, but I am confident in our ability to make the transition. With Hayley being one of the top 10 hitters in the nation in 2008, there was a tendency to rely on her for much of the offense. This year, I am encouraged by our ability to distribute the ball and get every position involved. That kind of versatility will make us difficult to defend.”

Setters

The setter position will experience the most change in 2010, as the Eagles will look to switch from a 5-1 offense to a 6-2. There is no question the leadership and experience of Hamilton will be missed, but EWU has two capable underclassmen who are ready to step up to the plate. Sophomore Laney Brown and redshirt-freshman Lindsay Niemeier will share the setting duties for the 2010 campaign. Although young, both athletes bring a strong skill-set to the position.

“Both Laney and Lindsay have a natural feel for the position and game as a whole,” commended Kydd. “They make good choices with the ball and their personalities foster great team camaraderie.”

As a redshirt in 2008 and the backup to Hamilton in 2009, Brown has seen limited in-game action, but has attained invaluable experience practicing within EWU’s system for over two years. She played in 11 matches in 2009, tallying 11 total assists and two digs. In high school, Brown was named to the Associated Press 2B All-State second team and was Co-MVP of the North Central League of Washington.

Niemeier will also use her redshirt year with Eastern and her strong preparatory career to help guide the Eagle offense in 2010. As a senior at Shadle Park High School in 2008, Niemeier led her team to its first state title at the 3A level. She was named to the All-State Honorable Mention squad and was a three-time All-Greater Spokane League selection.

“Both our setters have undeniable talent,” said Kydd. “They need to improve defensively since both will be playing from the back row, but in terms of their setting, I am fully confident in their ability to run the offense. They have a really good feel for when to release the ball to the outside, when to set the middle and when to back set.”

Outside Hitters

Despite losing an outside hitter who was named BSC Most Valuable Player in 2008 and ranks second in EWU history in career attacks, kills and kills per set, the Eagles will have a broad range of returners to fill the void left by Hayley Hills. Most importantly, Eastern will enjoy depth on both the left and right side this season.

“By playing in a 6-2 formation, we are able to get Alysha [Cook] and Shelby [Puckett] on the floor. We think they are two of our top hitters, so we want them involved as much as possible. Having a strong hitter on the right side will be tough to defend because the opposition will have to play sideline to sideline at all times.”

Cook, a left-handed hitter from Kennewick, Wash., was named to the All-BSC honorable mention team in 2008 after tallying 107 total kills and a 2.39 kills per set average. Although hampered by shoulder injuries for much of her junior campaign, Cook contributed significant minutes in 2009 as well. She played in 22 of Eastern’s 29 matches, finishing the year with 88 total kills and a 1.47 kills per set average.

“Alysha is fully recovered from her shoulder issues, so we are expecting big things from her,” said Kydd. “She is one of the strongest girls on the team and has worked hard at perfecting her hits to every angle of the court.”

Puckett returns after a successful freshman campaign and an even better spring season. She was recently awarded with the Volleyball Emtman award, which is given to one student-athlete who exhibits a strong work ethic, perseverance, character and a team-first attitude. Puckett was the only true freshman to see action during the 2009 season, as she appeared in 24 matches, recording 64 total kills, 24 digs and 23 blocks.

“In terms of sheer strength, Shelby is one of our top athletes,” said Kydd. “She worked extremely hard during the offseason and we expect her to be a serious threat on the right side.”

The left side will also be deep, as five athletes will compete for playing time at that position. Senior Jacque Brown is first on the depth chart, as she brings a wealth of experience to the court.

“Jacque has been a consistent player for us for nearly three years,” said Kydd. “She will be our captain in 2010, so we expect great leadership from her. Jacque is also a solid defensive player. She reads the ball really well, which will be beneficial in the 6-2 formation.”

In 2009, Brown tallied 111 kills and 187 digs. She turned in her best offensive performance against San Jose State (Sept. 10), where she hit at a team-leading .462 clip (13-1-26). She also had six double-digit dig performances during the year, including a season-high 18 versus Idaho State (Sept. 25).

Junior Cora Kellerman will also look to make an impact on the 2010 squad as one of the veteran outside hitters. Kellerman was a major factor in Eastern’s final regular-season game, as she registered 11 kills and 12 digs to help lead the Eagles to a 3-2 victory over Sacramento State (Nov. 21).

“Cora had a really positive spring season,” applauded Kydd. “She does a great job at the net and her passing has come a long way.”

After redshirting in 2009, Ashley Wright will make her debut as an official member of EWU’s roster. In high school, Wright was a first-team all-state selection at the 1A level and earned league MVP honors. As a senior in 2008, she helped the Cascade High School Kodiaks capture the league and district titles.

“Ashley is a great blocker, said Kydd, “so that is something she can bring to us right away. We know if we need to put a big block on someone, she is capable of getting the job done. She played middle in high school and club, so it is a bit of adjustment training on the left side, but she has worked extremely hard to improve. She really wants to get better and will do whatever it takes to prove that. Ashley [Hamilton] was kind of that person for us in the past, so it is great to see someone this year with same type of work ethic and dedication.”

The Eagles will have two brand new faces on the left side in Britta Forsythe and Esther Warren. Forsythe was a First-Team All-5A Inland Empire League selection while playing for Lake City High School in Coeur d’Alene and was twice nominated for Idaho’s Athletic Hall of Fame Female Athlete of the Year award.

“Britta is going to redshirt the 2010 season, but we are eager to see how she grows and improves over the year,” said Kydd. “I know she will be a major asset for us in the future.”

Warren comes to Cheney after a successful career at Richland High School in Fort Worth, Texas. Warren was a three-year letter winner for the Rebels and was named her team’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2008 and 2009.

“Esther is a true natural athlete,” said Kydd. “She is very physical and probably has the best vertical jump of all our outside hitters. If she can adapt to the training at the Division I level, she has potential to make an immediate impact on the left side.”

Middle Blockers

At the middle blocker position, the Eagles will welcome back one of their top players from the 2009 roster in Chenoa Coviare, as well as two other experienced players. Coviare, a senior from Medford, Ore., was named to the BSC First Team as well as the BSC All-Tournament team in 2009. Not only did she lead the team in blcoks, but she was also second in kills and total attack attempts.

“One of our main strengths last year was our middles,” said Kydd. “We want to continue to run through that position a lot this season as well.”

Coviare was honored as a first-team All-BSC selection in 2009 after ranking second in the league in total blocks (144) and blocks per set (1.35). Her blocks per set average was also among the top 20 in the NCAA. Her best performance came against Northern Arizona (Oct. 15), when she tallied a career-high 12 blocks, while also recording 14 kills for her first of three double-doubles on the season.

“Chenoa did a fine job for us blocking last season,” said Kydd. “She understands her role and knows she can score both offensively and defensively, but she needs to work on controlling her emotions in big situations. She tends to get over-excited, especially when things aren’t necessarily going well. If she can keep her composure in those instances, she will be an incredible threat.”

In addition to Coviare, the Eagles welcome back senior Allison Reinstein, who will be play an important role in the middle blocking position.

“Allison is a great team player,” said Kydd. “Although she went in behind Sara and Chenoa last year, she is accepting of her role and does whatever she can to contribute to the squad. She is an excellent server and can also set the ball well. I would feel confident putting her in at any time.”

Reinstein played in 20 of EWU’s 29 matches last season, registering 45 kills and 22 blocks. In 2008, Reinstein led the team with 23 service aces.

Adding to its depth in the middle of the court will be junior-college transfer Chenoa Rossi-Childress. Rossi-Childress comes to Cheney from Feather River College in Quincy, Calif., where she was a First-Team All-Golden Valley Conference selection in 2009.

“We have had several good players come out of that junior college system in the past,” said Kydd. “Chenoa was ranked very high isnlots of categories for that region and we know she will be a strong addition to our squad.”

Defensive Specialists / Libero

Eastern will have four athletes vying for the role of defensive specialist or libero.

“We have four girls who all have an equal shot at this position,” said Kydd. “It is really going to come down to who can serve-receive the ball the best. We have some great defensive players, but we need someone back there who can pass the ball consistently.”

Lindsey Petroni has the most court experience, as she saw action in 22 matches last season. Most notably, the junior from Spokane, Wash., picked up a career-high 33 digs against Idaho (Sept. 30), becoming just one of nine members in the coveted 30-dig club at Eastern.

“Lindsey definitely has the inside track,” said Kydd. “She is great at chasing down tough balls, but needs to hone her passing skills in order to solidify that starting position.”

Junior Amy VanderWel also returns after two years with the Eagle volleyball program.

“Amy has been struggling with injuries, so her role this year really depends on how healthy she is,” said Kydd. “She is a great server and a great team player. She can definitely help us if she is healthy.”

Freshmen Celeste Crosby and Tyler Calles represent the two other Eagles who will compete for minutes in the back row. Crosby is an All-Greater Spokane League player from Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, Wash., while Calles is a three-time All-Northwest Conference selection from Anacortes High School in Anacortes, Wash.

Schedule

Eastern will once again be tested in the early part of the season, as four of its first eight opponents were NCAA tournament teams a year ago.

“We want to be pushed and compete against elite teams,” expressed Kydd. “One of our long-term goals is to be a top 50 team and in order to achieve that goal, we need to play teams that are already of that caliber.”

The Eagles will open the 2010 campaign at The Invitational At Seattle, Wash., where they will face one of the strongest programs in Division I volleyball. The Huskies of the University of Washington have made 14 NCAA appearances, including the last eight-consecutive years. EWU will also face Seattle and Mercer at The Invitational.

Following the tournament on the West side, Eastern will head down to Malibu, Calif., to take on Missouri, Pepperdine and Rice at the Pepperdine Asics Classic Sept. 3-4. Rice could pose the biggest threat of the weekend, as the Owls are the defending Conference USA champions and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the third time in the last six seasons. Missouri will also be a good matchup, as the Tigers hail from one of the strongest volleyball conferences in the nation.

“The Pepperdine tournament is going to be a good challenge for us,” said Kydd. “Traditionally, teams from the larger schools and larger conferences, like the Big 12 and CUSA, are considered better than than us, but there is so little crossover, who really knows? These are the exact matches we need to play to prove we belong. We know we have the ability to beat teams like Missouri and Rice, so it is important we schedule these matches and then execute on the goal.”

The Eags will return to familiar territory for its final tournament before conference play begins. Eastern will battle Washington State and Cal Poly at the Nike Cougar Challenge Tournament in Pullman, Wash., Sept. 9-10. The Cougars are coming off a highly successful season, where they finished with an 18-13 overall record and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.

Big Sky action for the red and white will commence on the road at Montana and Montana State on Sept. 17 and 18, respectively. Following the trip to the treasure state, Eastern will make its home debut against Idaho State (Sept. 24) and Weber State (Sept. 25). An important league game for the Eags will be on Oct. 16, when they look to avenge the home loss to Northern Colorado that knocked them out of the BSC tournament a year ago. And as usual, the duels with Portland State (Oct. 9 and Nov. 6) and Sacramento State (Oct. 1 and Nov. 20) are expected to be heated.

“It is going to be an interesting conference season because almost every team in the league lost at least one or two of their top players,” expressed Kydd. “It is hard to say until you get out there, but I know teams across the board are getting better. Weber State always recruits good athletes and I know the Montana State coach is working really hard to turn the program around. There are usually a few teams that stand out one way or another, but this year I think there could be a lot of parity.”

By virtue of winning the regular-season title in 2009, Portland State will host the Big Sky Championships for the second time in three years. The four-team tournament is slated for Nov. 26-27 at the Peter W. Stott Center.

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