Eagles Look to Continue Success on Final Regular-Season Road Trip
With four wins in its last five outings, Eastern optimistic as it heads to the home of defending Big Sky champion Northern Colorado, and conference newcomer North Dakota
Riding a two-match winning streak, and enjoying the success of four wins in its last five outings, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team prepares for a stern test this weekend in its final road trip of the regular season.
The Eagles play at defending Big Sky champion Northern Colorado (18-8, 11-5 Big Sky) on Thursday (Nov. 8) in Greeley, before making their first-ever trip to Grand Forks, N.D., to face Big Sky newcomer North Dakota (13-14, 8-8) on Saturday (Nov. 10).
After dropping the first 22 matches of the 2012 campaign, Eastern has now won four of its last five, which includes three 3-0 sweeps for the Eagles and an inspiring 3-2 upset on the road of third-ranked Northern Arizona.
Despite the exceptionally tough start to their season, the Eagles are still mathematically eligible for the six-team Big Sky tournament, held Nov. 23-24 in Greeley, Colo. Four teams (Idaho State, Portland State, Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado) have already clinched their bids to the postseason. So, for Eastern to snatch one of the remaining two spots, it would have to win out, plus a number of other scenarios would need to occur, like North Dakota going 0-4 to close out the year.
But the main goal for Eastern as it heads down the home stretch of the 2012 season is to play each match with the same composure and resilience it has exhibited the last two weeks.
“Our team definitely had some struggles in the beginning,” said EWU head coach Lisa Westlake, who took over the reins of the program on Aug. 28 of this year. “But we are playing really solid volleyball right now. We are poised and playing with confidence. We want to go out being aggressive and playing like the team we know we can be.”
Eastern was certainly aggressive in its first meeting of the year against Northern Colorado and North Dakota. The Bears handed EWU a 3-0 loss in Cheney, but it was not the easy victory that that score might indicate. Eastern battled back from a 21-12 deficit in the second set to pull within three at 23-20, and then went on to save three set points before the Bears finally put it away, 25-22. The third set was a back-and-forth battle, featuring 13 ties and nine lead changes. Eastern had a chance to win it, serving for the set at 26-25, but UNC’s Tambre Haddock delivered three kills in a row to give the Bears a hard-fought 28-26 victory.
The Eagles succeeded in taking a set off North Dakota in their matchup, as Eastern won the second after hitting .267 and out-digging UND, 17-11. Despite recording a worse attack percentage in the third, the visitors from Grand Forks handed EWU a narrow 25-23 loss, and then finished it off with a 25-16 decision in the fourth.
• Although still one of the top teams in the league,
Northern Colorado has not had quite the season that most people
were expecting as the defending regular-season and tournament
champion who has the reigning Big Sky MVP and two other 2011
All-Conference selections on its roster. The Bears have lost five
Big Sky Conference matches this year, including two on its home
court. They also lost a 3-1 decision to Montana - a team EWU swept
less than two weeks ago. The Bears have prevailed in their two most
recent Big Sky matchups against Sac State and North Dakota, but
both were narrow five-set affairs.
• Northern Colorado has remained the most efficient offensive team in the league, boasting a .267 season attack percentage. But when EWU played the Bears back on Oct. 5, UNC was also second in the league in opponent hitting percentage. Now, the Bears rank seventh in that statistical category, just barely ahead of Eastern.
• That reigning MVP, senior outside hitter Kelley Arnold, is second in the league in points, averaging 4.36 per set based on kills, blocks and service aces. The Bears have three players who rank in the top five in hitting percentage, including middle blockers Brianna Strong (.408) and Andrea Spaustat (.344) and senior setter Marissa Hughes (.351).
• North Dakota comes into the match at an even .500 in
conference play. UND lost a tough 3-2 match at home to Northern
Colorado in its most recent outing, but had won its previous two
against Weber State and Sac State. UND has played three five-set
matches in the last two weeks, and has not enjoyed a sweep in their
favor in five-straight outings.
• As its record would indicate, North Dakota ranks right in the middle of the Big Sky in almost every statistical category. UND’s highest ranking is fourth in opponent hitting percentage at .174.
• UND’s biggest threats offensively come in the form of junior middle hitter Ronnie Munkeby and sophomore outside hitter Lexi Robinson, who both average more than 3.30 kills per set. North Dakota’s freshman defensive specialist Lauren Clarke is also one of only four players in the league who average more than four digs per set.
Eagle News & Notes
Eagles On a Roll: After 22-consecutive losses
to start the 2012 campaign, Eastern has now won four of its last
five, three of which were 3-0 sweeps for EWU. 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 most
recently, celebrated back-to-back wins on the road at Northern
Arizona (Nov. 1) and Southern Utah (Nov. 3).
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 Thursday (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,
Kellerman Doubles-Up: Senior Cora Kellerman has had a major impact in Eastern’s recent turnaround, and was especially effective last weekend in the pair of road wins at NAU and SUU. Kellerman posted back-to-back double-doubles, bringing her season total to a team-leading 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 the weekend. In the last five matches, the 6-0 outside hitter has averaged 4.06 kills per set on a .246 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 3.14 per set.
Battling Back: Not only did Eastern capture its first two road wins of the season on its most recent Big Sky trip, 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. 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.
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 two weeks, the Eagles hit a combined .267 clip. Prior to that, Eastern had hit above .200 only three times in the entire 2012 season. 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.
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 16.23 digs per set, with three different players averaging at least three and a quarter digs per set. In its last five conference matches, EWU has out-dug its opponents, 326-288.
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 went down 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.
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 .284 with 121 kills and just 37 errors on 296 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 has had six double-digit kill outings, and has also had at least two blocks in 22 of 24 appearances.
Schumacher Shines as a Starter: Since becoming a consistent member of EWU’s starting lineup, freshman outside hitter Allie Schumacher has averaged 3.14 kills per set and 1.96 digs. She has had eight double-digit kill efforts in the last 14 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.