After Tough Loss to UNLV, Eagles Rebound with Thrilling Five-Set Victory over Southern Utah

Eastern uses best offensive performance of season to outlast future Big Sky member

The Eastern Washington University volleyball team wrapped up its non-conference slate on Saturday (Sept. 10) with one win and one loss at the UNLV Invitational in Las Vegas, Nev.

In the first match of the day, Eastern (4-6) fell to host UNLV in four competitive sets (17-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-18), but in the second part of its double-header, the Eagles prevailed in a five-setter (23-25, 25-23, 26-28, 25-19, 15-19) against the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah.

Eastern had a phenomenal showing on the offensive end against SUU, as the team finished with a season-best .327 attack percentage. The Eags rattled off 68 kills with only 16 errors on 159 attempts. Even in spite of playing five full sets, EWU's 16 miscues marked the fewest hitting errors of any match this year.

"The difference tonight was our ability to get kills and avoid costly errors," said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "We had moments tonight, like we experienced yesterday against Northridge, where we had to dig deep and just figure it out. We were able to do a much better job of accomplishing that tonight. I give full credit to the team - they had the fortitude to hang in there."

Juniors Cora Kellerman and Shelby Puckett led the way for EWU with 17 kills apiece. Puckett also had three service aces, two of which came at a most critical time in the match.

With the scored tied at 12-12 in the decisive fifth set, head coach Miles Kydd called a timeout to focus his team. Coming out of the break, Puckett drilled back-to-back aces to give Eastern a valuable 14-12 edge. The Thunderbirds earned a sideout to make it 14-13, but on the next play, Kellerman finished it off with an emphatic kill from junior setter Laney Brown.

The Eagles survived eight ties and three lead changes in the final stanza.

Freshman middle blocker Amanda Brown had a nearly flawless performance against SUU, as she finished with season-high eight kills and no errors on 12 total attempts. Brown also tallied a team-high five blocks.

"I mentioned yesterday that it was a work in progress with our middles," said Kydd. "And we already saw improvement in both the matches today. Amanda is starting to feel more comfortable with the setters and more comfortable with her task on the court. We are definitely headed in the right direction."

Eastern's other freshman middle, Talia Fermantez, had a solid outing as well, finishing with seven kills on a .400 clip and two blocks.

Sophomore Ashley Wright also made a huge impact in the match, as she tallied a season-high 12 kills to go along with two service aces, five digs and two blocks.

Sophomore setter Lindsay Niemeier registered her fifth double-double of the year with 41 assists and career-high 15 digs.

Senior libero Lindsey Petroni led Eastern's defensive efforts, picking up a season-high 20 digs.

A couple of hours before celebrating the big win against Southern Utah, Eastern suffered a four-set loss to UNLV. The Eags dominated the Rebels in the first set, but could not carry that momentum throughout the rest of the match.

Eastern recorded a .429 attack percentage in the opening frame, which included five kills from Puckett, four from Kellerman and three from Wright. Senior Amy VanderWel helped on the defensive end with seven digs.

Unfortunately, the Eagles couldn't maintain the firepower in the subsequent sets, as they hit a combined .078 in the final three frames. Eastern did out-block UNLV 13-8 and had two less service errors, but the Rebels recorded 57 kills to Eastern's 48, while also picking up 13 more digs.

"We played great in the first set," said Kydd. "We hit them with a lot of variety and really executed our game plan. But UNLV made some adjustments, and we just didn't handle it well."

The Eagles will now return to Cheney for its Big Sky Conference openers against Weber State on Friday (Sept. 16) and Idaho State on Saturday (Sept. 17). Eastern beat both teams at home during the 2010 season.

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