Eagles Survive Another Five-Set Thriller

With a season-high 100 digs and a pair of double-doubles from setters Lindsay Niemeier and Laney Brown, Eastern takes down Idaho State in five

For the fourth time already this season, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team dug deep to win a marathon match, this time against Big Sky foe Idaho State. The Eagles prevailed in five dramatic sets (25-16, 11-25, 25-20, 25-27, 15-12) on Saturday (Sept. 17) in Cheney, Wash., to wrap up its Big Sky opening weekend with a perfect 2-0 record.

Eastern also improved its overall record to an even .500 (6-6), while the Bengals dropped to 6-6 on the season and 1-1 in league play.

Eastern has now played in five five-set matches in the 2011 campaign, and has come out on top in four of them. The Eagles recorded a stellar .318 attack percentage in the final set on Saturday and had 15 digs and three blocks.

"Well, I think we've been in enough situations now that we feel like we are in control of that fifth set," said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "It was a matter of perseverance tonight. Once we realized it wasn't going to be easy, we hung in there and fought till the end."

In the decisive fifth set, Eastern jumped out to an early 8-4 lead and seemed to have all the momentum on its side. But a couple of unforced errors allowed the Bengals to chip away at that lead and eventually tie the set at 11-11. A kill by senior Cora Kellerman followed by an attack error from ISU gave the Eagles a valuable two-point edge at 13-11. The Bengals earned a sideout on the ensuing serve, but that was it, as junior Shelby Puckett rattled off back-to-back kills to give EWU the set and match.

It looked as though this match would not even reach five sets after Eastern rallied from a seemingly insurmountable deficit in the fourth. ISU had earned set point at 24-19, but a kill by Kellerman sparked an incredible 6-0 run for the Eagles. After earning that sideout for her team on set point, the junior captain from La Conner, Wash., stepped behind the service line, where she delivered back-to-back aces to give Eastern the 25-24 edge. Unfortunately, the Eagles could not close it out and ISU took the set, 27-25. But it was an amazing effort that was soon rewarded.

"We trust Cora and Shelby to get the job done in those tough situations," said Kydd. "When push comes to shove, you want the ball in the hands of your best hitters and tonight, they delivered. Both girls came up with the big plays when we needed them. At the end of that fifth set, we knew Shelby had the swing, and she came through. We expect that from her. Both players did an outstanding job in the clutch."

Kellerman finished with a team-high 18 kills, but what was even more outstanding was her efficiency, as she had zero errors on 44 total attempts. She posted a career-best .409 attack percentage, while also contributing nine digs and the pivotal pair of aces.

Puckett had 14 kills, eight digs and five blocks. Sophomore Ashley Wright also had 14 kills, to go along with nine digs and one solo block.

Eastern's setting duo of Lindsay Niemeier and Laney Brown both had impressive outings, as each recorded a double-double in the match. Niemeier finished with 35 assists and 13 digs for her sixth double-double of the season, while Brown chipped in 22 assists and 11 digs. Niemeier also had two aces.  

Freshman Amanda Brown contributed eight kills and a team-high eight blocks, while fellow freshman Talia Fermantez recorded seven kills, three blocks and a career-high six digs.

As a team, Eastern tallied a season-high 100 digs, compared to just 80 for ISU. Eastern's libero Amy VanderWel accounted for 29 of those pickups - a career-high for the senior from Woodinville, Wash.

The Eagles also had a 65-40 advantage in kills and 64-39 edge in assists.

Eastern will hit the road for its next two conference matches, as it takes on Montana State on Friday (Sept. 23) in Bozeman, followed by Montana on Saturday (Sept. 24) in Missoula.

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