Eagles Kick Off Second Half of Big Sky Season Against Two Tough Opponents
Looking for reprieve from season-long drought, Eastern plays at conference-leading Portland State Thursday, before hosting Sac State in Cheney on Monday
What's Ahead for the Eags
With all the changes that occurred early in the 2012 season with unexpected injuries and a new coaching regime, Eastern Washington University volleyball head coach Lisa Westlake had realistic expectations for her squad.
“With everything that happened, we knew it would take time to make the adjustments and work out a rotation,” said Westlake. “I was always confident that in the second half of the Big Sky season, we would have things on the upturn.”
Well, the second half of the Big Sky season begins this Thursday (Oct. 18), when EWU travels to Portland, Ore., to take on the conference-leading Vikings at 7 p.m. at the Peter W. Stott Center.
Eastern (0-21, 0-10 Big Sky) will then return to Cheney to face Sacramento State on Monday (Oct. 22) at Reese Court.
Although finding that initial breakthrough will be difficult against a Portland State team that is 9-1 in conference play, Eastern is optimistic as it prepares for the second half of its Big Sky season against all familiar opponents.
- The Vikings are currently in a first-place tie with Idaho State in the Big Sky standings. Both teams boast a 9-1 league record, however PSU’s one loss did come last Friday (Oct. 12) against the Bengals, so right now, Idaho State would have the edge in a tiebreaker.
- In league-only statistics, Portland State has the best opponent hitting percentage at .148. The Vikings average 15.97 digs per set - second-most in the league - and are the toughest serving team with 1.78 aces per set.
- Portland State is led by junior outside hitter Jaklyn Wheeler, who transferred from Pac-12 powerhouse Oregon. Wheeler leads all players in the conference this season with a 4.11 kills per set average. She is also quite busy on the defensive end, as the Big Sky leader in double-doubles with 13. She has had double-digit kills in nine of 11 conference matchups so far. However, one of her two “off-nights” was in the first meeting with EWU. The Eagles held Wheeler to just nine kills on a .167 attack percentage.
- Portland State swept EWU in the first go-around on Sept. 17 in Cheney, with set scores of 27-25, 25-17, 25-17. Eastern held the Vikings to a .191 hitting percentage in that game, which is below their season average. But Portland State did the same to Eastern, and on a more severe scale, as the Eagles hit a .061 clip in their loss at home.
- The Hornets come in with a 3-7 mark in conference play. After beating Eastern in the Big Sky opener back on Sept. 13, Sac State lost six matches in a row, including four on the road. The Hornets are actually 3-9 overall this year when they don’t have home court advantage. The Hornets did split on their last road trip to the Montanas, as they upset Montana State, 3-1, after losing to the Grizzlies by the same score.
- Eastern struggled defensively in its first meeting of the year against Sac State, as the Hornets recorded a .246 attack percentage - nearly 11 points better than its season average. Most of EWU’s troubles came from right-side hitters Kayla Beal and Kiley Mansfield, who combined for 21 kills on a .321 efficiency.
- Although the Hornets had success the first time against EWU, on the season, they are one of the least efficient offensive teams in the Big Sky, ranking 10th in hitting percentage (.131) and ninth in kills (11.65/set). Beal, along with senior outside Janelle Currey are the players to watch out for, as they receive more than double the sets of any other player on the team. They are averaging a combined 5.44 kills per set in the league season.
- Eastern has only defeated Sac State 13 times in 63 meetings throughout history, but nine of those 13 victories came at Reese Court in Cheney.
Eagle News & Notes
First Set Setbacks: In 21 matches this season,
Eastern Washington has yet to win a first set. Eastern has endured
14 sweeps in 2012, lost five times in four sets, and twice in
five. But of those nine sets the Eagles have won, none were the
opener. Eastern seems to play its best volleyball in set No. 3, as
five of the nine sets won this year have been the third, including
three matches in which the team was down 2-0 heading into that set.
But as EWU has not won an entire match, maybe the key could be
winning that first set.
Young Middles Make an Impact: This season, Eastern is starting a redshirt-freshman and a sophomore at middle blocker. But these two young players have proved to be the biggest threats for EWU in the Big Sky Conference season. Sophomore Talia Fermantez and freshman Kellen Barfield average a combined 3.75 kills per set on a .250 attack percentage. Eastern does not currently have an outside hitter hitting above .200 in conference play, so the team will rely heavily on the efficiency of its young middles.
Schumacher Delivers as a Starter: Since becoming a consistent member of EWU’s starting lineup, freshman outside hitter Allie Schumacher has averaged 2.67 kills per set and 1.57 digs. She has had five double-digit kill efforts in the last eight outings, and has had at least one block in six Big Sky contests. She registered her first-career double-double against North Dakota (Oct. 4) with 13 kills and 10 digs. She has matched that career-high of 13 kills on two other occasions, including Eastern’s most recent contest at Idaho State.
Kelsey Comes on Strong: Sophomore Kelsey Julian has had double-digit kills in Eastern’s three of her last five outings. Coming off the bench for EWU, Julian 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. She also had five digs, two blocks and a service ace.
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 one set 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 libero 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 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.