Eastern Drops First Two Matches of 2012 Season, and Loses Starting Setter in the Process

Junior setter Lindsay Niemeier goes down in third set against San Francisco, but Eagles battle on in season-opening tourney in Laramie, Wyo.

In the 2012 season opener, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team endured a 3-1 (25-20, 24-26, 25-22, 25-22) loss at the hands of the San Francisco Dons on Friday (Aug. 24) at the UniWyo Wyoming Invitational. But the bigger hit to EWU was the loss of junior setter Lindsay Niemeier, who went down in the third set with an apparent knee injury. The Eagles went on lost their second match of the day against in-state rival Seattle, as the Redhawks upended EWU, 3-1 (25-16, 25-20, 25-23, 25-23).

Niemeier did not return after she exited the first match. Information regarding the status of her injury will be forthcoming upon further assessment when the team returns to Cheney. The injury to Niemeier was especially crushing, as she started the match on Friday as Eastern’s only healthy setter. Senior Laney Brown is currently nursing a broken big toe, suffered just before the start of preseason.

“It’s devastating,” said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. “Especially because before she went down, Lindsay was playing like I always thought she could when I recruited her. It was headed for maybe the best match of her life.”

In two and half sets, Niemeier had tallied a double-double of 30 assists and 10 digs. The Spokane, Wash., native led the Big Sky Conference in double-doubles last season with 17. She had also registered three kills and three blocks on Friday against the Dons.

“The positive is our team came out and absolutely battled,” said Kydd. “We focused on our defense, blocked some balls and everyone stepped up their game.”

Junior outside hitter Ashley Wright took over the setting duties in the absence of Niemeier, tallying nine assists, 13 digs, six kills and three blocks for the Eagles.

After three lead changes and seven ties in the first set, Eastern conceded, 25-20. The Dons hit a .318 clip in the opening frame, with 19 kills and only five errors on 44 attempts, compared to a .167 hitting percentage for EWU.

Eastern responded in the second though, jumping out to quick 14-8 advantage. The Eagles held onto the lead most of the set, until USF tied it up at 24-24. But a back-to-back kill and block by Wright gave EWU the 26-24 win.

The third set was also tight, as evidenced by 12 ties and five lead changes. But San Francisco had the slight edge, taking it 25-22. Eastern posted four more kills than USF in the set, but the Dons had six less offensive errors.

Despite playing without its starting setter, Eastern kept the fourth set close as well. The Dons took an early 6-2 lead, but coming out of a timeout, senior Shelby Puckett hammered one of her game-high 19 kills to spark a 6-2 run for the Eagles. The score remained within two points  until three-straight kills from three different Dons gave USF match point at 24-21. San Francisco’s Jocelyn Levig sealed the deal with a kill on the last play.

Three different Eagles posted double-doubles, including Niemeier, Puckett and senior Cora Kellerman, who finished with 12 kills and 16 digs. Freshman Ryann Ensrud let the team defensively with 16 pickups.

Freshman Kellen Barfield had eight kills with only one error on 19 attempts for a team-high .368 hitting percentage. She also added five blocks and two digs.

Eastern’s second match of the day against the familiar Seattle Redhawks was also determined in four sets. After managing only five kills on 17 total attempts, Eastern dropped the first, 25-16. But once the Eagles adjusted to working with a new setter, they found a way to put points on the board.

Eastern went into the break down two sets to none, but came back with a vengeance in the third. EWU held Seattle to .056 hitting, and out-blocked the Redhawks 4-0. With exception of the libero, every player on the floor for Eastern had at least one kill in the third set, as Eastern won it 25-23.

The Eagles used momentum from the win in the third to take an early 8-3 lead in the fourth. Eastern maintained a slight edge up until SU’s Kaytlyn Dill and Sarah Jaeckel fired back-to-back kills to give the Redhawaks their first lead of the match at 22-21. An unforced error by Eastern followed by two more kills for Seattle gave the Redhawks the set and the match with the 25-23 decision.

"We showed a lot of heart and determination today," said Kydd. "But we need to continue to figure things out because in the long run, heart alone is not going to be enough.

"I am extremely proud of the way our team has battled the adversity we’ve faced," added Kydd. "It's been amazing to see."

Eastern will play two more matches on Saturday (Aug. 24) as part of the UniWyo Wyoming Invitational, starting with Presbyterian at 8 a.m. Pacific time. The Eagles will wrap up tournament play against host-Wyoming at 12:30 p.m.

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