Eagles Host Conference-Leading Bengals and Last-Place Wildcats in Final Two Matches of 2012
Looking to close out season on a high note, Eastern returns to Reese Court for a celebratory Senior Night
In its final two matches of the 2012 season, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team will prepare to face two teams that currently reside at opposite ends of the Big Sky Conference standings.
Eastern (4-25, 4-14 Big Sky) will take No. 1 Idaho State (22-5, 16-2) on Thursday (Nov. 15) at 7 p.m. at Reese Court, before facing last-place Weber State (10-20, 3-15) on Saturday (Nov. 17) for Senior Night.
Prior to the match Saturday against WSU, Eastern will honor its three senior members in Laney Brown, Cora Kellerman and Shelby Puckett, who have a collective 14 years with the Eagle volleyball team.
Enduring several significant injuries, as well as an unexpected coaching change, the Eagles have persevered through a tough 2012 season. EWU started the year on a 22-match losing streak, but broke through for its first victory against Sacramento State on Oct. 22. Eastern then won three of its next four Big Sky matches, including a thrilling 3-2 upset on the road against one of the league’s best teams this year, Northern Arizona.
Over the last three weeks, and six matches, the Eagles have recorded a team hitting percentage of .229, with 364 total kills. In its previous 11 conference matches, EWU was hitting just .121 as a team. The Eagles have had more service aces in these last six matches than it had in the first 11 of the league season, and have improved their digs per set average and assists per set average by four.
Eastern will look to continue that improvement and really end the season on a positive note when it takes on ISU and WSU in its final two outings of the year. And if history is any indication, EWU has a good shot at doing that. In the last 15 years, Eastern has lost just one home match to these two Big Sky teams. The Eagles have won 16-consecutive matches against ISU at Reese Court, and have not lost to WSU in Cheney since 2007.
But 2012 is a new season, and Eastern was swept by both teams the first time they played this year.
The Eagles had a difficult time containing ISU’s powerful offense, which ranks 42nd in the nation in kills and 28th in attack percentage. The Bengals hit a .289 clip in that match on Oct. 13, with 45 kills and just 12 errors. Eastern, on the other hand, was held to .102 hitting and committed 20 offensive errors. Eastern did out-block the Bengals by one, and only trailed in digging numbers, 47-44.
Against the Wildcats, Eastern came out flat and could never quite recover, especially when it came to serve receive. EWU hit .067 in the opening set, resulting in a 25-14 defeat. The Eagle offense improved as the match went on, but the Wildcats recorded 12 service aces - the most by any EWU opponent this season - and 10 blocks, which allowed the home team to roll to a 25-22 victory in the second and 25-18 win in the third.
- The Bengals come to Cheney riding a six-match winning streak. ISU has swept eight different Big Sky opponents this season, with its only two losses coming on the road to Montana State and Northern Arizona. The Bengals lost to MSU in five, and fell to the Lumberjacks in four. Idaho State currently has a two-match lead on second-place Portland State, which the Bengals will face on Saturday (Nov. 17) in a battle for the 2012 Big Sky regular-season title.
- It is no mystery why Idaho State sits atop the conference standings heading into the final week of Big Sky action. The Bengals are first in the league in kills (14.19/set) and assists (13.33/set), while ranking second in hitting percentage (.248), opponent hitting percentage (.167) and service aces (1.29/set).
- ISU is led by freshman outside hitter Tress Lyman, who averages 3.26 kills per set on a .250 attack percentage. But the reason Idaho State has been so successful this year is because of a versatile offense that doesn't highlight just one attacker. Besides Lyman, the Bengals have four other players who average at least two kills per set. And defensively, ISU has five different players averaging at least two a quarter digs per set.
- ISU’s junior setter Lori Mendenhall has proved to be the most effective setter in the league this season, averaging 11.72 assists per set. She also contributes 2.88 digs per set and has had 61 kills.
- After celebrating that sweep of EWU on Oct. 11, the Wildcats lost six matches in a row, although three of those were 3-2 decisions. The Wildcats upset Montana in Missoula last week, but have dropped their most recent two matches to Idaho State and Sac State.
- Although Weber State owns the worst record in the Big Sky, the Wildcats are one of the top six teams in both blocking and serving - the two areas that hurt Eastern the most in the Oct. 11 meeting in Ogden. WSU averages 2.59 blocks per set to rank fourth in league-only statistics. The Wildcats are sixth in service aces, with an average of 1.19 per set.
- Despite the strong blocking efforts, WSU is still last in the league in opponent hitting percentage, allowing teams to hit, on average, .237 against them.
- As a team, Weber State has posted a .109 hitting percentage in the 2012 conference season, and is the only Big Sky squad that averages less than 10 assists (9.99) and less than 11 kills (10.64) per set.
- WSU’s biggest offensive threat comes in the form of outside hitter Rebecca Fuchs, who averages 2.56 kills per set. However, the 6-0 outside hitter has only managed to do that on a .069 attack percentage. When Weber State played EWU the first time around, WSU’s Shanae Burgin was the best hitter on the court that night, with 10 kills on a .769 clip.
- After redshirting the 2010 season due to a rare and serious heart condition that required three different surgeries to correct, Cora Kellerman returned to the court in incredible fashion, as she was named to the All-Big Sky First-Team in 2011. Since her return, she has played in all 211 possible sets for EWU. She has led the Eagles in kills in back-to-back seasons, and has been one of the top diggers on the team as well. She has amassed more than 800 kills and digs in her career, and has had 20 double-doubles, and four 20+ kill outings. She is also a three-time Big Sky All-Academic honoree, and will make it on that list for a fourth-consecutive year this year as an Electrical Engineering major.
- Shelby Puckett was a member of the All-Big Sky Second-Team last season, and was an honorable mention selection in 2010. She enters her final weekend of collegiate volleyball with 775 kills, 725 digs and 56 service aces in her four-year tenure. She has played in 107 of 113 possible matches throughout her career, and has had 36 matches with double-digit kills and 27 with 10 or more digs. She is also a soon-to-be four-time Big Sky All-Academic honoree.
- Laney Brown has twice been honored on the Big Sky All-Academic list, and is expected to three-peat this season. She was recently named the Big Sky Player of the Week - the first weekly honor of her career. The 5-7 setter has tallied 1,688 assists in her tenure, as well as 535 digs, 77 kills and 43 service aces. She had 67 assists in Eastern’s 3-2 upset of Northern Arizona on Nov. 1 - the most assists in a single match by any player in the Big Sky this season. Throughout her career, Brown has had 20 double-doubles.
Eagle News & Notes
Eagles Celebrate Success: After 22-consecutive
losses to start the 2012 campaign, Eastern won four matches in a
three-week span, including three 3-0 sweeps for the red and white.
The Eagles finally broke through for their first victory of the
season on Oct. 22 against Sacramento State, which actually snapped
a school-record 26-match losing streak that spanned over two
seasons. They followed that with another win on Oct. 25 against
Montana, and then celebrated back-to-back wins on the road at
Northern Arizona (Nov. 1) and Southern Utah (Nov. 3).
What it Takes to Win, Statistically: Minimizing offensive errors for a better efficiency has been a key in Eastern’s recent success. In its four wins, which have all come in the last three weeks, the Eagles hit a combined .267 clip. Prior to that, Eastern had hit above .200 only three times in the entire 2012 season, which may explain the 22 losses to start the year. But against the Lumberjacks (Nov. 1), EWU recorded a season-high .296 attack percentage, with 84 total kills - 15 more than its opponent that night. On Nov. 3 against Southern Utah, EWU recorded a .267 attack percentage, while holding the Thunderbirds to .079 hitting - the worst offensive output by an EWU opponent this year. Another major factor contributing to the wins has been Eastern’s ability to take care of first contact (serving/passing). In the four wins, the Eagles posted eight more aces than their opponents, and only gave up an average of 2.75 aces per set. In the previous 11 conference matches, EWU had averaged nearly five serve reception errors per match.
Efficient Fermantez: Although customary for the position, sophomore middle hitter Talia Fermantez has proved to be far and away Eastern’s most consistent hitter in the 2012 season. In 16 conference games, the Honolulu, Hawaii native is hitting .287 with 145 kills and just 45 errors on 349 attempts. That attack percentage ranks among the top 10 in the Big Sky. Overall on the season, Fermantez is the only Eagle with an offensive efficiency above .200. She is a .260 on the year. Fermantez has had seven double-digit kill outings, and has also had at least two blocks in 24 of 26 appearances. She posted a career-high 18 kills and season-high seven blocks in EWU’s most recent outing at North Dakota (Nov. 10).
Kellerman Doubles-Up: Senior Cora Kellerman has been a major factor in Eastern’s recent turnaround, and was especially effective in the pair of road wins at NAU (Nov. 1) and SUU (Nov. 3). Kellerman posted back-to-back double-doubles, bringing her season total to eight. She had 17 kills and a career-high-tying 20 digs against NAU, and followed that with 15 kills on a season-best .412 attack percentage and 16 digs versus the Thunderbirds. She also tallied five service aces in the two matches combined, nearly doubling her season total heading into that weekend. In the last seven matches, the 6-0 outside hitter has averaged 3.96 kills per set on a .223 attack percentage. In the previous 11 conference matches, she was averaging just 2.21 kills on a .085 clip. Along with ranking second on the Eagle squad in kills per set, Kellerman is among the top 10 diggers in the league, averaging 3.18 per set.
Laney Brown Claims First-Career POW: Following a successful weekend of Big Sky action, in which the Eagles won two matches on the road, senior Laney Brown was named Big Sky Player of the Week, marking the first-career weekly honor for the 5-7 setter out of Waterville, Wash. Averaging 13.25 assists, 2.88 digs and tallying nine kills on a .421 clip, Brown propelled EWU to back-to-back wins against Northern Arizona and Southern Utah - its first road wins of the entire 2012 campaign. In the two matches combined, Eastern hit .285 as a team – significantly better than its .139 average from the previous 14 conference matches. The Eagles had 131 total kills, which was 33 more kills than their two opponents. The Eagles saw freshman outside hitter Allie Schumacher break the school’s all-time single-match kills record with 35 on a .397 attack percentage against NAU, and saw senior outside hitter Cora Kellerman post back-to-back double-doubles with a combined 32 kills on .321 hitting – a season-best for the veteran. In addition, Eastern’s starting middle hitters contributed 31 kills on a .256 clip. The common denominator in this thriving offense -- Laney Brown. Running a full-time 5-1 offense for the first time in her career, Brown had 106 total assists over the weekend for an average of 13.25 assists per set – almost four more than her season average of 9.36. She also tallied nine kills of her own with just one single error for a sizzling .421 attack percentage. The 5-7 setter was not only busy orchestrating the offense for EWU, but was active on the defensive end as well, picking up 23 digs (2.88/set) and two blocks. She was also flawless from behind the service line, without a single error in 27 serves. Her performance on Nov. 1 against the Lumberjacks was particularly unforgettable with a career-high 67 assists – the most by any Big Sky player in a single match this season! She also posted a career-high six kills, to go along with 14 digs for her seventh double-double of the year. In the nail-biting fifth set that had 15 ties and six lead changes, Brown delivered the match-winning dump to finally seal a 23-21 victory. In Saturday’s outing at SUU, Brown was one dig shy of another double-double, as she tallied 39 assists, nine digs and had three kills. This success has all come after recovering from an early-season injury that had Brown sidelined for the first eight matches of the year.
Schumacher Shatters Record: Freshman Allie Schumacher had a heroic performance on Nov. 1, leading the Eagles to a 3-2 upset of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. With 35 kills, the 6-1 outside hitter broke Eastern’s all-time single-match kills record that had stood for 16 years. The previous record of 34 was held by EWU great Kim Exner, who played for Eastern from 1995-98. Maybe even more impressive than the sheer number was that those record-breaking 35 kills came on a .397 attack percentage. Schumacher made just eight errors on 68 total swings in the match. She had nine kills alone in the fifth set, while hitting .400. Schumacher becomes one of just three players in EWU history to join the 30-kill club. Along with Exner’s 34 kills on Sept. 6, 1996, 2008 graduate Hayley Hills twice recorded 30 kills exactly, both against Idaho State on Sept. 9, 2007 and again on Oct. 23, 2008.
Battling Back: Not only did Eastern capture its first two road wins of the season recently on Nov. 1 and 3, but the Eagles did it in incredible fashion. After dropping the first set on the road against NAU, Eastern charged back for wins in the second and third to take a 2-1 lead. Northern Arizona was able to force a dramatic rubber game with a win in the fourth. In the decisive fifth, EWU found itself in a precarious postion, trailing the home team 10-7. But a kill by senior Cora Kellerman gave Eastern a valuable sideout, and the Eagles went on to score six of the next nine points to tie it up at 13. Eastern battled through 15 ties and six lead changes in the set before finally putting it away, 23-21. Two days later against Southern Utah, Eastern built a two sets to none lead on the T-Birds, but then faced an improbable comeback in the third set, as it trailed the home team 24-20. The Eagles managed to save four-straight set points to knot the score at 24, and then saved two more at 25-24, and 26-25. Then, a service ace off the hand of Shelby Puckett, and back-to-back kills from Allie Schumacher and Talia Fermantez finally sealed the 29-27 victory for EWU.
Digging Becomes Priority: Since taking over the program on Aug. 28, head coach Lisa Westlake has made back-row defense a priority for her team. The Eagles have climbed from one of the worst digging teams in the Big Sky to now rank second overall in league-only statistics. As a team, Eastern averages 16.48 digs per set, with three different players averaging at least three and a quarter digs per set. In its last seven conference matches, EWU has out-dug its opponents, 455-418.
First Set Leads to First Win: Not only did Eastern record its first victory of the 2012 season on Oct. 22 against Sac State, but the Eagles did it after winning their first first-set of the year. In 22 matches, EWU had not won a single opening set. But against the Hornets, Eastern battled through nine ties and six lead changes for a crucial 29-27 triumph. Senior Cora Kellerman was a big part of that first first-set win, recording 10 of her 15 kills with only one error in 17 attempts. She also had six digs in the opening set.
Doerpinghaus Delivers in Eagle Win: Making the first Big Sky Conference start of her career, freshman middle blocker Allison Doerpinghaus had a major impact in Eastern’s first win of the season. The Palo Alto, Calif., native earned the starting nod in place of an injured Talia Fermantez, who was out with an ankle injury suffered in the previous match at Portland State. Doerpinghaus certainly made the most of her opportunity. She led the team with 10 blocks - the most in a single match by any Eagle in the 2012 season. She also had eight kills with zero errors on 14 attempts for an impressive .571 attack percentage, while also contributing three digs, one assist and one ace.
Schumacher Shines as a Starter: Since becoming a consistent member of EWU’s starting lineup, freshman outside hitter Allie Schumacher has averaged 2.93 kills per set and 1.91 digs. She has had eight double-digit kill efforts in the last 16 outings, including a record-breaking 35 against NAU on Nov. 1. She registered her first-career double-double against North Dakota (Oct. 4) with 13 kills and 10 digs, and has had two more since then.
Kelsey Comes on Strong: Sophomore Kelsey Julian had double-digit kills in three-consecutive outings for EWU. Coming off the bench, she had a career night against Southern Utah (Sept. 27), leading the Eagles in the narrow 3-2 loss. She posted a career-high 13 kills on a sizzling .550 attack percentage. In five sets, she made just two offensive errors - the most efficient performance of any outside hitter on the court that night, and of any Eastern player this season (with at least 10 kills in a match). She also had five digs, two blocks and a service ace agaisnt the T-Birds. The next night against Northern Arizona (Sept. 28), Julian had 11 kills, and in her next appearance versus defending regular-season and tournament champion Northern Colorado, she led the team with 10 putaways.
Eagles Experience “Revolving Door” Rotation: Within the first month of competition in the 2012 season, the Eastern Washington volleyball team had five of its nine returning letterwinners on the injured reserve list, including both its veteran setters and its only defensive player with any collegiate experience. Senior setter Laney Brown and junior DS Celeste Crosby have since returned to the lineup, but in the midst of all the injuries, head coach Lisa Westlake had to experiment with a variety of rotations. All 16 players on the 2012 roster have played in at least three sets for EWU, while 13 different players have appeared in the starting lineup at least once. Senior Shelby Puckett, a two-time All-Big Sky outside hitter, was recently moved to defensive specialist to help with Eastern’s need for a consistent server and passer. Due to the season-ending injury of junior setter Lindsay Niemeier, junior Ashley Wright has had to fill in as a reserve setter, and blocker in the front row for the Eagles. As a redshirt-freshman and sophomore, Wright had been a starting outside hitter for the Eags, with zero experience as a setter.
Early-Season Setting Woes: Although said to be almost impossible, it seems lightning did in fact strike twice on the Eastern Washington University volleyball team. For the past two seasons, Eastern has used a 6-2 offense with setters Laney Brown and Lindsay Niemeier. Two weeks before the 2012 season began, Brown suffered an injury to her big toe, which required surgery and had a projected 6-12 week recovery. Luckily though, Eastern had two-year starter Niemeier ready to run offense for EWU. But in the 2012 season-opener in Laramie, Wyo., the junior setter went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She had surgery on the knee Sept. 12, but is not likely to return in the 2012 season. Eastern played the first eight matches and 26 sets of the season without an experienced setter. Brown was able to return to the starting lineup during the Iowa State Challenge Sept. 7-8, and has been running a 5-1 offense ever since, with assistance from junior Ashley Wright in the front row.
Talia Fermantez Named to Gonzaga Invite All-Tournament Team: Sophomore Talia Fermantez was recognized for her strong performance both offensively and defensively at the Gonzaga Invitational (Aug. 31-Sept. 1). The 6-1 middle blocker was one of six elite athletes named to the All-Tournament team following the two-day event in Spokane, Wash. Fermantez, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii, averaged 3.20 kills per set and 1.20 blocks in Eastern’s three matches against UC Riverside, South Dakota State and host-Gonzaga. She registered 32 total kills on the weekend, with just eight errors on 74 attempts for an impressive .324 attack percentage. She also had 12 total blocks, which was three times as many as any other player on the team. Fermantez scored a total of 39 points for her team at the tourney. In Eastern’s narrow 3-1 loss to tournament-champion South Dakota State, Fermantez posted a career-high 16 kills - three more than her previous career high.
Smart Cookies: In 2009 and 2010, 11 members of
the Eagle squad were named to the BSC All-Academic team and 10
Eagles were honored in 2011 - that is the most of any volleyball
team in the conference all three years.
Eastern’s Tradition of Excellence: For 16 consecutive years, Eastern Washington has had at least one player on the All-Big Sky First Team, and since becoming an official member of the Big Sky Conference, the Eagles have had five different players named Big Sky MVP. Eastern has finished in the top four of the Big Sky regular-season standings and advanced to the semifinals of the BSC tourney 15 of the last 16 years. The Eagles have reached the championship match 10 times since becoming a member of Division I athletics, and have advanced to the NCAA Championship four times.