North Dakota Outlasts Eastern, 3-1

Missed opportunities in fourth set leads to tough loss for Eagles in first-ever trip to Grand Forks, N.D.

The Eastern Washington University volleyball team played a solid match on Saturday (Nov. 10) night in Grand Forks, N.D., and the Eagles certainly had their chances. But North Dakota was able to come up with the clutch plays to secure a 3-1 (18-25, 25-22, 25-20, 33-31) victory on its home court.

After winning four of five matches, Eastern Washington has now dropped two in a row for a 4-25 overall record and 4-14 mark in Big Sky play. North Dakota improves to 15-14 on the season and 10-8 in conference.

After falling behind two sets to one, Eastern Washington came out with some fire in the fourth. With six kills from three different players, the Eagles jumped out to an 8-2 lead, and then quickly doubled their points for a 16-9 advantage.

After three-consecutive errors by UND, it looked as though the match would be headed for a fifth set. But the home team showed some resilience, scoring seven of the next eight points to pull within one at 17-16.

Junior Ashley Wright had a back-to-back kill and block to put Eastern back in the driver’s seat at 20-16, but UND went on another small run to tie the score for the first time in the set at 23-23.

A kill by senior Cora Kellerman gave Eastern its first of eight set points, but North Dakota managed to save each and every one. Enduring the intense back-and-forth battle, UND finally earned its first set point at 32-31, and the home team took advantage, acing its serve on the final point for a 33-31 triumph.

“Crucial errors,” said EWU head coach Lisa Westlake when asked about the fourth-set loss. “We obviously had umpteenth opportunities to finish it and didn’t execute. We competed great in that set, and never gave up mentally, but we couldn’t make the plays. We weren’t transitioning and didn't take care of some easy passes. North Dakota definitely earned points, but that will happen. We have to be able to take care of what we can.”

Kellerman and Fermantez each finished with 18 kills, with just six errors between them. Fermantez also led the team in blocks with seven, while Kellerman tied her career-high in digs for the second time this season with 20.

“Cora and Talia were great,” said Westlake. “They played aggressively and showed a will to win. Talia worked extremely hard to slow down balls off her block and Cora was all over the place digging.”

Senior Shelby Puckett, who suited up as libero for the Eagles, recorded a career-high 29 digs - the most by any Eagle in a match this season. As a team, EWU tied its season-high in digs with 87.

Senior setter Laney Brown contributed 12 of those pickups, to go along with 53 assists for her ninth double-double of the year.

The first set on Saturday at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center was one of Eastern’s best all season. The Eags were firing on all cylinders, recording a .484 attack percentage with 16 kills and just one error. Kellerman hammered seven kills on a .429 clip to pace the team, while redshirt-freshman Kellen Barfield added five. Eastern never trailed in the set, rolling to a 25-18 victory.

North Dakota responded though, seizing momentum right away in the second. UND earned a 20-14 lead, but Eastern did not back down, scoring seven of the next 10 points to pull within two at 23-21. EWU was able to save two set points, but an unfortunate service error gave UND a 25-22 victory.

After averaging a .403 attack percentage in the first and second sets, Eastern was held to just .068 in the third, as UND won that one, 25-20.

Barfield was the third Eagle to eclipse double-digit kills in the match, as she finished with a career-high-tying 10. Wright added seven kills, six digs and one ace.

North Dakota was led by sophomore outside hitter Felicia Ulrich, who posted a career-high 21 kills with just one error for a .488 attack percentage. UND had two other players with double-digit kills, while its freshman libero Lauren Clarke picked up 25 digs.

With the win, UND clinched a bid to the 2012 Big Sky Tournament, held Nov. 23-24 in Greeley, Colo. Eastern, which is out of postseason contention, will return to Reese Court to play its final two matches of the season against two teams at opposite ends of the league standings. EWU faces No. 1 Idaho State on Thursday (Nov. 15), before taking on No. 11 Weber State on Saturday (Nov. 17) for Senior Night at Reese Court.

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