Eagles Falter in the Clutch, Drop Five-Set Decision to Northern Colorado
Despite 32 digs for junior Lindsey Petroni, Eagles miss chance to even BSC record
The Eastern Washington University volleyball team recorded six more blocks than its opponent and had four players earn double-digit digs, but the squad from Northern Colorado proved to be stronger down the stretch, as the Bears defeated Eastern in five sets (19-25, 25-23, 22-25, 25-13, 15-10) on Saturday at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles drop to 3-5 in Big Sky Conference action and 4-14 overall, while UNC improves to 16-5 on the season and 7-1 in the BSC, which is currently tied for the top spot in the league standings.
Eastern came out strong against a solid Northern Colorado squad, winning the first set 25-19 on a powerful .343 (14-2-35) attack percentage. The Bears managed to nab the second set by a narrow 25-23 margin, but Eastern fired back after the break, taking the third set 25-22. The Eagles dominated the net in that third frame, earning six team blocks, compared to zero for the Bears. Senior Chenoa Coviare and sophomore Shelby Puckett were unstoppable on offense, as they combined for nine kills on 18 errorless attacks.
Unfortunately, the Eagles would not carry this momentum into the subsequent sets. Northern Colorado jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the fourth after Eastern committed four-consecutive errors on offense. EWU pulled within five at 15-10, but a stuff block by UNC's dynamic duo of Ashley Lichtenburg and Kelley Arnold sparked a 10-3 run by the Bears to close out the set.
Eastern held the early advantage in the rubber game, as redshirt-freshman Ashley Wright came up with two quick kills to give the Eagles a 4-1 edge. But the Bears scored six of the next eight points to take a 7-6 lead, which seemed to deflate Eastern's optimism. The Eagles earned a side out after a kill by Coviare, but then committed two errors from behind the service line and two errors in serve receive, which allowed the Bears to roll to a 15-10 victory.
"That was a match we could have won," expressed EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "We seemed to be really tired in the fifth game and it's impossible to win a fifth game if you play tentatively. We missed three serves in that game and eight total, which says something about your mindset. You can't miss serves in those situations."
Despite the narrow loss, the Eagles had one of their best nights defensively, as the team picked up a season-high 84 digs, as well as 13.5 blocks. Junior Lindsey Petroni tied her season-high in digs with 32, which is the third 30-dig performance of her career. Freshman defensive specialists Tyler Calles and Celeste Crosby were also strong in the back court, as the two combined for 28 digs. Crosby had 12 pickups, which was a career-high for the Spokane native.
"In a lot of ways, that was a good showing by our team," said Kydd. "Northern Colorado is a great team. They have only lost one match and that was a five-setter at Portland State. But honestly, it is too late in the season for moral victories – we need real victories."
Coviare recorded the best hitting percentage of all players in the match at .429 (17-2-35). The Medford, Ore., native also contributed a team-leading six blocks, which brings her career total to 442.
"Chenoa is one of the best players in the conference," said Kydd "But her effectiveness gets tampered when we can't pass the ball, as was the case in the fifth set tonight. In order to run our offense, we need to be better on first contact, especially in tight situations like that."
Puckett was also efficient on the offensive end, as she finished the night with 13 kills and only two errors in her 29 attempts. She also set a career-high in blocks with four, one of which was a solo. Sophomore setter Laney Brown had 45 assists and four blocks, while her sister, Jacque Brown, chipped in nine kills, three blocks and 11 pickups.
The Eagles will hit the road for its next two conference matchups, as they travel to Weber State on Oct. 22 and Idaho State on Oct. 23. The Wildcats are winless in the 2010 Big Sky season, while Idaho State holds an even 4-4 record in league play. Eastern defeated both teams earlier this season on Reese Court.