Eagles hope to use home court advantage to nab first conference victory of 2010 season
After playing 11 consecutive matches on the road, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team will return to Cheney, Wash., for the first weekend of volleyball at Reese Court. The Eagles will host Idaho State on Friday (Sept. 24) at 7 p.m., followed by a matchup with Weber State on Saturday (Sept. 25) at 7 p.m.
The Eagles enter the weekend with a 1-10 overall record and 0-2 mark in league play. Most recently, Eastern suffered a heartbreaking loss to Montana in its Big Sky debut, as it fell in five sets to the Grizzlies, who were picked as the co-favorites with Portland State in the BSC preseason coaches' poll. Eastern rallied from two sets down to force a dramatic rubber game, but despite earning a two-point advantage at 10-8, the Eagles could not hold on and fell 15-13 to the home team.
Eastern dropped its second Big Sky game of the weekend when Montana State upended the Eagles with a 3-1 decision. The Eagles had three players with double-digit kills and held a statistical advantage in digs, aces, kills and assists, but a surfeit of unforced errors resulted in a loss for the red and white.
"We have struggled this season to date with injuries, illness and an ever-changing lineup," said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "Given the state of our record, we are probably suffering from a crisis in confidence, but if we can come out and compete hard, I know our team has the talent and determination to be successful."
Eastern will look to reverse its luck this weekend when it plays in front of a home crowd for the first time in the 2010 season. The Eagles have a long history of success when playing at Reese Court, as the team has recorded an 85-14 overall record over the last decade. The Eagles went undefeated at home during the 2008 season, while only dropping two matches last year, one of which was to Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Tournament.
"We are definitely excited to finally be at home" said Kydd. "Something that is always important to us is to defend our home court. Our goal is always to win at least 90 percent of our home matches, and I feel confident we can do that again this season."
Since the 1984 season, when Eastern became a member of the NCAA Division I ranks, the team has tallied a 23-3 overall record in its home openers. However, all three of those home-opening losses have come when playing against conference opponents. The most recent loss was in 2007 when Weber State edged the Eagles 3-1 at Reese Court.
Idaho State will come to Cheney with an 8-4 overall record and 1-1 mark in Big Sky conference action. The Bengals topped Northern Arizona 3-1 on Sept. 17, before falling in five sets to Northern Colorado on Sept. 18. ISU won the first two sets against the Bears, but faltered after the break, as UNC won the final three sets pretty handily.
The Eagles will be looking for their 15th consecutive victory against the Bengals at Reese Court, as the last time ISU left Cheney with a win was on Sept. 23, 1995. EWU swept the series in 2009, which included a hard-fought five-set victory in Pocatello, Idaho. Haylee Thompson-Brock, who earned Big Sky Player of the Week accolades on Sept. 13, leads the Bengals on offense this season, averaging 3.51 kills per set. ISU ranks third in the conference in service aces, as it averages 1.44 per set. The Bengals are also among the top five in the BSC in hitting percentage (.164), kills (11.56/set), blocks (2.11/set) assists (11.11/set).
Weber State, like EWU, suffered two losses in the opening weekend of Big Sky play. The Wildcats fell at home to Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona, both by a score of 3-1. WSU's overall record for the 2010 season stands at 2-11, which includes losses to Idaho and Washington State – two teams that have also defeated EWU this season.
Eastern will look to extend a six-game win streak against the Wildcats, and its third-straight in Cheney. The Eagles have not dropped a single set to the Wildcats in nearly two years, as Eastern blanked WSU in both meetings of the 2009 season, and recorded a sweep in the semifinal game of the 2008 Big Sky Tournament on Nov. 20.
EWU holds a 35-27 advantage in the all-time series with Weber State, but the last time WSU beat the Eagles was actually in the 2007 home opener on Reese Court. Weber State's big hitter this year is sophomore Bethany Wray, who averages 3.21 kills per set. Wray is also fourth in the conference in service aces with 16 total on the season and a 0.33 average per set.
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 2.88 kills per set. She has tallied 115 total kills over 11 matches, including a career-high 21 against Seattle (Aug. 28). She has hit in double-digits in four consecutive outings and has recorded four double-doubles this season. Puckett has also contributed 102 total digs (2.55 dps), which ranks third on the team. After sitting the first seven matches of the season due to injury, senior Alysha Cook returned to the lineup during the Nike Cougar Challenge Sept. 9-10 in Pullman, Wash. Since her return, Cook has recorded 47 total kills and 12 blocks. She posted a career-high 29 kills on .436 hitting efficiency in Eastern's Big Sky opener at Montana on Sept. 17. Sophomore Laney Brown and redshirt-freshman Lindsay Niemeier have split the setting duties this season, with Niemeier averaging 6.37 assists per set, and Brown at 4.67. Niemeier has also been strong on the defensive end, as she has tallied 63 total digs this season, which ranks fourth on the team. Middle blockers Chenoa Coviare and Allison Reinstein are taking care of business at the net, as those two players alone have contributed to 58 of Eastern's 66 blocks this season. Coviare is also third on the squad in kills with 91 total and 2.28 kills per set average. She led the team in its most recent outing at Montana State, as she had 16 kills and only four errors in her 29 attempts. In the backcourt, junior libero Lindsey Petroni leads the squad with 131 total digs and 3.74 digs per set. She picked up 32 digs against Montana, which was just one shy of her career record. Senior captain Jacque Brown has also been busy in the back court, as she has tallied 109 total digs, while averaging 2.72 digs per set.
Cook Has Career Performance in Missoula – Senior right-side hitter Alysha Cook tallied a new career record when she hammered 29 kills in Eastern's Big Sky opener against Montana on Sept. 17. Her previous career-high for kills was 19, which she recorded against Northern Colorado back in 2007. The Kennewick, Wash., native led all hitters in the match in Missoula, as she committed only four errors in her 51 attempts for a stunning .431 attack percentage. She also contributed a team-leading seven blocks. Cook, who had to sit out the first six matches of the 2010 season due to injury, returned to the lineup on Sept. 9 when EWU faced the Cougars of Washington State.
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.
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.
Double-Double Trouble - So far this season, four different Eagles have recorded double-doubles, while two of those players have registered two or more. Sophomore Shelby Puckett leads the team with four already 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 on Sept. 10, as she had 13 kills and 11 digs versus Cal Poly and 12 kills and 13 digs at Idaho. In Eastern's Big Sky opener versus Montana (Sept. 17), Puckett recorded 11 kills and 18 digs. 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 22 assists and 10 digs versus Cal Poly (Sept. 10). Jacque Brown tallied back-to-back double-doubles last weekend in the Treasure State, as she had 10 kills and 13 digs versus Montana (Sept. 17) and 10 kills and 12 digs against Montana State (Sept. 19). Laney Brown is the fourth 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 399 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 32 blocks already recorded this season, she needs only 108 more to nab the record outright!
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 eight of their 11 matches, tallying 223 total assists and 63 digs. She ranks eighth in the BSC in assists per set at 6.37 and has had four games with 20+ assists. Wright and Warren, who hit on the left side, have combined for 53 kills and 19 blocks, while Calles and Crosby provide depth in the back court. Calles had a breakout performance against Idaho (Sept. 10), when she tallied a team-leading 23 digs.
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. At the Nike Cougar Challenge Tournament, 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.
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 Idaho State and Weber 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. Live stats for all volleyball matches are also available via www.goeags.com