Eagles Take Down Montana State in Five

With a career-high 14 kills and four aces, sophomore Ashley Wright leads Eagles to fourth-straight win and fifth five-set victory of season

Another five-setter, another win for the Eastern Washington University volleyball team.

In its first road test of the Big Sky season, Eastern Washington found a way to get past the Bobcats of Montana State on Friday (Sept. 23) at Shroyer Gym in Bozeman, Mont. Eastern won the match 25-22, 20-25, 25-20, 17-25, 15-7 to earn its fifth five-set victory of the 2011 season.

With the win, Eastern moves to a perfect 3-0 in Big Sky Conference action and breaks the .500 barrier for the first time since the team was 1-0 to start the 2010 season. The Eagles now own a 7-6 overall record as they head to Montana on Saturday (Sept. 24) to take on the 3-8 Grizzlies.

Pacing the Eagles on Friday in Bozeman was sophomore Ashley Wright, who tied her career-high of 14 kills on a stellar .480 clip. She also registered a career-high four service aces, and had six digs and one block.

"We would not have won tonight if it wasn't for Ashley," said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "She was making things happen. She was aggressive and assertive and took initiative when other players fell back."

After winning the first set 25-22, Eastern lost some of its edge, as the Bobcats jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the second, which quickly turned into a 20-10 advantage for the home team. Eastern put a temporary stop to the bleeding, as it went on a 10-3 run to pull within three at 23-20. But  the Bobcats managed to finish it off with back-to-back kills by senior Chelsea Oemcke and junior Jennifer Lundquist.

Eastern was in complete command of the third set, thanks in large part to the seven kills rattled off by junior Shelby Puckett. The Eags won the set, 25-20, but then just as they had in the second frame, the Eagles dug another big hole to start the fourth. After opening up an 18-11 lead, the Bobcats cruised to a 25-17 victory to force the decisive and dramatic fifth set.

But seeing as it was their sixth five-setter of the season, the Eagles had experience on their side. Eastern recorded a .571 attack percentage in the final stanza, while holding MSU to a dismal -.083. Wright had three kills of her 14 kills in the fifth set.

"We have a lot of confidence now in those situations," said Kydd. "And sometimes, it's not even what we do, as much as the other team committing its own errors.  They're trying to do something spectacular, while we just do what we have to do. We do a great job of simply executing in those fifth sets."

Eastern's sophomore setter Lindsay Niemeier earned her seventh double-double of the season with 23 assists and a team-high 16 digs. Niemeier now leads the conference in double-doubles.

"I think it's pretty neat Lindsay led our team in digging tonight," said Kydd. "Our setters work extremely hard, and have really stepped up a lot for us defensively."

Puckett also registered a double-double with 15 kills and 14 digs, while also contributing four blocks and two service aces. Junior captain Cora Kellerman tallied 12 kills, nine digs and a season-high five blocks.

Freshman middle blocker Amanda Brown, who is the second-leading blocker in the conference, finished with seven kills and a match-high seven blocks.

As a team, EWU had its best blocking performance of the season with 14 total team blocks.

Senior Lindsey Petroni provided a spark off the bench, as she picked up 13 digs and had two service aces in the final three sets.

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