Eagles Open Conference Play on the Road at Montana and Montana State

Eastern to face BSC preseason favorite Grizzlies in first contest of 2010 Big Sky season

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After a rigorous pre-conference schedule in which the Eagles recorded one win and eight losses, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team looks ahead to the familiar Big Sky Conference lineup, which begins this weekend with a couple of road matches against Montana (Sept. 17) and Montana State (Sept. 18).

“We always set up our preseason schedule with matches that will best prepare us for conference,” said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. “Although we didn’t record as many wins as we’d hoped, we certainly feel ready for Big Sky play because of those challenges already faced in the preseason. We were exposed to almost every situation possible, from a mental, emotional and physical standpoint. We experimented with nearly eight different lineups, we saw how our players react in a variety of situations and we faced tough competition that we played really well against at times and very poorly at others.”

The Eagles, who finished tied for second in the BSC last season with a 12-4 record, will look to snap their eight-game losing skid with a victory in Missoula on Friday night. The Grizzlies were picked as the co-favorite in the BSC preseason coaches’ poll, but have also struggled a bit in the preseason, having dropped six of its last seven contests. Last season, the Eagles and Grizzlies split the series, with each team recording a win on its home court.

Montana State, who won only one conference game last season, currently holds the third-best overall record in the BSC at 5-5. Although MSU has recorded four more wins than Eastern, the Bobcats recently suffered the same fate as EWU at the Nike Cougar Challenge, as they fell to Washington State (1-3), Cal Poly (0-3) and Idaho (0-3). Eastern has won the last ten consecutive meetings with the Bobcats, including a sweep of the series in 2009 in which the Eagles did not drop a single set.

“There is definitely more of a comfort level during the Big Sky season, because we are playing teams we have seen many times before,” said Kydd. “Nobody has the same team as they did last year, but we are not completely overwhelmed by the unknown, as is the case sometimes with preseason games. Montana and Montana State are both solid programs, but if we can play steady and not give up extensive runs, I am very confident in our ability to come home with two Big Sky victories.”

LAST TIME OUT... In Eastern’s most recent outing, the team played Washington State and Cal Poly as part of the Nike Cougar Challenge Tournament, as well as facing Idaho in its final tune-up before Big Sky play. Eastern battled against the Cougars, including a third set that went into extra points, but eventually fell 3-0 (25-23, 25-20, 28-26) to the tournament host. The Eagles managed to take a set from both Cal Poly and Idaho, but could not manage the overall victory, as it fell 3-1 in both contests. Sophomore Shelby Puckett recorded two double-doubles on the weekend, while senior Chenoa Coviare was named to the Nike Cougar Challenge All-Tournament team after she recorded 15 kills and six blocks between the two contests with WSU and Cal Poly.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW... Sophomore Shelby Puckett has been the main offensive threat for the Eagles thus far in the season, as she averages a team-leading 2.97 kills per set. She has tallied 58 total kills over nine matches, including a career-high 21 against Seattle (Aug. 28). Puckett has also contributed 78 total digs (2.52 dps), which ranks second on the team. Sophomore Laney Brown and redshirt-freshman Lindsay Niemeier split the setting duties as part of Eastern’s 6-2 offense. Niemeier averages 5.23 assists per set, while Brown contributes 5.00. Middle blockers Chenoa Coviare, Allison Reinstein and Chenoa Rossi-Childress are taking care of business at the net, as those three players have contributed to 47 of Eastern’s 49 blocks this season. In the backcourt, senior Jacque Brown leads the squad with 84 total digs and 2.71 digs per set. Junior Lindsey Petroni has also been busy on the defensive end, as she has picked up 76 total digs, while averaging 2.92 digs per set. Freshman Tyler Calles filled the coveted role of libero against Idaho (Sept. 10), where she turned in an impressive performance that included 23 digs and one service ace.

Scouting the Grizzlies

• Montana returned five starters from its 2009 squad, as well as the 2009 BSC Libero of the Year in Brittney Brown. Brown currently ranks second in the Big Sky in digs per set (4.76), and has recorded one 30-dig performance against Colorado on Sept 4. As a team, Montana ranks second in the league in digs per set with 16.14
• In addition to its back-court defense, Montana is ruthless at the net, as two of its players rank among the top five in the conference in blocks per set. Senior Jamie Thibeault, who was a BSC first-team selection in 2009, currently leads the league with 1.30 bps, while teammate Brittany Quick is fifth with her 0.97 bps average. The Grizzlies, as a team, have recorded 88 blocks this season, with a 2.38 bps average.
• UM’s starting setter Kortney James ranks third in the conference in assists, as she averages 8.38 per set.
• Montana won two of its first three contests in 2010, but then dropped six straight before claiming a five-set victory against Temple in its most recent outing.
• The Grizzlies hold a 37-29 advantage in the all-time series with Eastern, but the Eagles have won 18 of the last 20 contests.

Scouting the Bobcats

• Montana State returned two starters and its libero from the 2009 squad that went 1-15 in conference play and 3-23 overall. MSU has already recorded one more win that it did all of last year, as it holds a 5-5 overall record in 2010.
• MSU currently ranks among the top three in the Big Sky Conference in two different categories, including service aces (1.32 per set) and opponent hitting percentage (.182).
• Freshman Nicole Baker leads the league with 0.45 aces per set, and has recorded the second-most total aces in the conference this season at 17.
• Senior Rachelle Allen has been the main offensive threat for the Bobcats thus far in 2010, as she averages 3.03 kills per set. Taylar Barney is second on the squad with 81 total kills and a 2.13 kps average. She is also the Bobcats’ second-leading blocker with 25 on the season. Alex Penewell leads MSU at the net with 0.71 blocks per set.
• The Bobcats run a 5-1 offense with Mackenzie Campbell at quarterback. She has recorded 266 total assists this season and averages 7.19 assists per set, which ranks seventh overall in the Big Sky Conference.

Eagle Notes

Coviare Recognized for Strong Play in Pullman - Chenoa Coviare was named to the Nike Cougar Challenge All-Tournament Team for her efforts against Washington State and Cal Poly on Sept. 9 and 10, respectively. The senior from Medford, Ore., recorded 15 kills and six blocks in the two games played in Pullman, Wash. Coviare led the Eagles in the matchup with the Cougars, recording an impressive .350 attack percentage (10-3-20). She also picked up one block and one service ace in the exciting three-set match. As a team, Eastern tallied a season-high 10 blocks against the Cal Poly Mustangs, four of which came at the hands of Coviare. Coviare currently leads the team in blocks this season with 26 total. She averages 0.84 blocks per set, which ranks eighth in the Big Sky Conference.

Reinstein Named to All-Tournament Team - EWU senior middle blocker Allison Reinstein was one of six elite athletes named to the Pepperdine Asics Classic All-Tournament Team, announced Sept. 4 by the tournament officials. She recorded the best attack percentage on the Eagle squad at .219 (12-5-32), while also leading the team at the net with five total blocks. She averaged 1.33 kills per set over the weekend, and tallied three service aces. In total, Reinstein scored 18 points for her team, which was the second-best overall effort for an Eagle at the tournament in Malibu. Reinstein’s overall season attack percentage of .273 (46-16-110) is the best on the squad, while ranking sixth in the Big Sky Conference.

Eastern Picked 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, who came in third in the voting. EWU has made 14 consecutive appearances in the BSC tournament, including two title runs in 1989 and 2001. Last year, the team tied for second overall in the regular season with a record of 12-4.

Freshmen Force - Eastern’s 2010 lineup features five talented athletes who had never played in a collegiate volleyball match before this season. Redshirt-freshmen Lindsay Niemeier and Ashley Wright, and true freshmen Tyler Calles, Celeste Crosby and Esther Warren have all seen significant action this year. Niemeier has been the starting setter for Eastern in seven of their nine matches, tallying 136 total assists and 49 digs. She ranks seventh in the BSC in assists per set at 5.23 and has had two games with 20+ assists. Wright and Warren, who hit on the left side, have combined for 40 kills and 18 blocks, while Calles and Crosby provide depth in the back court. Calles had a breakout performance last weekend against Idaho (Sept. 10), when she tallied a team-leading 23 digs.

Double-Double Trouble - So far this season, three different Eagles have recorded double-doubles, while two of those players have registered two or more. Sophomore Shelby Puckett leads the team with three so far in the 2010 campaign. She tallied a season-high 21 kills and 19 digs against Seattle (Aug. 28), and then recorded a double-double in back-to-back outings last weekend (Sept. 10) with 13 kills and 11 digs versus Cal Poly and 12 kills and 13 digs at Idaho. Redshirt-freshman Lindsay Niemeier has accomplished the feat twice this year, as she picked up 17 assists and 13 digs versus Mercer (Aug. 27) and a season-high 22 assists and 10 digs versus Cal Poly (Sept. 10). Laney Brown is the third Eagle to earn a double-double, as the sophomore recorded 52 assists and 11 digs in the five-set thriller at Seattle (Aug. 28). Her 52 assists was third-best single-match performance for all setters in the Big Sky Conference this season.

Coviare Chases Record - So far in her career, Chenoa Coviare has tallied 384 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. With 17 blocks already recorded this season, she needs only 123 more to nab the record outright!

Eagles Endure Stringent Schedule - Of the nine opponents appearing on Eastern’s pre-Big Sky schedule, five of them had or are still appearing in AVCA Top 25 poll. In the Eagles first weekend of 2010 season, they faced one of the top 10 programs in the nation in Washington. The Huskies were ranked No. 8 at the time, and defeated EWU 3-0 (25-13, 25-15, 25-13). At the Pepperdine Asics Classic, Eastern faced three teams who were all receiving votes in the second AVCA Top 25 poll of the season, released Sept. 6. Last weekend, at the Nike Cougar Challenge, EWU played Washington State, who earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament last season and Cal Poly, who received 31 votes in the Sept. 6 poll.

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 Award honors collegiate and high school volleyball teams that display 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.

Live Coverage

If you are unable to cheer on the Eagles courtside, be sure to plant yourself in front of a computer, as all of Eastern Washington’s Big Sky Conference matches will be available to view, free of charge, at www.bigskytv.org, including both matches this weekend versus Montana and Montana State. In fact, you may watch any contest hosted by a Big Sky team throughout the season, not only in volleyball, but also in football and men’s and women’s basketball. You may also keep up to date on the Eagles at www.goeags.com, where news releases, rosters, schedules and statistics for all 14 EWU varsity athletics teams may be found.

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