With Momentum and Confidence from First Win, Eagles Turn Attention to Montana, Montana State

As one streak ends, Eastern looks to keep another alive when it hosts the Montana schools this weekend at Reese Court

Upcoming Matches/Coverage

Eastern vs. Montana
Thursday, Oct. 25 | 7 p.m. PT
Reese Court | Cheney, Wash.
Match Notes | Live Stats | Mobile Stats | Live Video

Eastern vs. Montana State
Saturday, Oct. 27 | 7 p.m. PT
Reese Court | Cheney, Wash.
Match Notes | Live Stats | Mobile Stats | Live Video

The first win is always the hardest - and no one knows that better than the Eastern Washington University volleyball team. After 22-consecutive losses in the 2012 season, the Eagles finally celebrated their first victory on Monday (Oct. 22) at Reese Court. Behind a complete team effort, Eastern swept Sacramento State, 3-0. A key to the epic win was a hard-fought 29-27 victory in the opening set - Eastern’s first first-set victory of the entire 2012 campaign.

But now, with that monkey off its back, Eastern must channel the positive momentum into preparation for its next two Big Sky matchups. The Eagles host Montana on Thursday (Oct. 25) at Reese Court before taking on Montana State Saturday (Oct. 27) in the annual “Dig Deep for Pink” night, honoring national breast cancer awareness month.

“It certainly helps in terms of confidence,” said EWU head coach Lisa Westlake. “Any thoughts we had about not being good enough to win have hopefully gone away. But it is a different day Thursday. It is a new match, and we have to prepare just like we always have. The team has to believe in themselves the same way they did when they walked on to the court against Sac State. And I think that should be a little bit easier now.”

Although some of the pressure is relieved after snapping the season-long losing streak, the Eagles will have another streak to worry about this weekend when they return to Reese Court.

Eastern has not lost a home match to the Lady Griz since 1995, and has won 10 in a row at home against Montana State. In fact, in the 59 sets played against Montana in Cheney over the last 16 years, Eastern has won 48 of them. Since 2002, the Eagles have won 30 of 34 sets at home against MSU.

This is certainly a more favorable streak than the last one EWU had to deal with, but that doesn’t make the task of upholding it any easier.

The First Time Around

vs. Montana (9/22/12) - When Eastern played the Lady Griz in Missoula, EWU was held to .059 hitting - its second-worst team attack percentage in the Big Sky season. The Eagles were out-blocked 11-6, and committed 22 unforced errors. Montana’s junior duo of Kayla Reno and Brooke Bray combined for 19 kills on a sizzling .354 clip in that match.

vs. Montana State (9/20/12) - The initial meeting with the Bobcats was the closest EWU came to victory in the first half of the Big Sky season. Eastern held MSU to a .138 hitting percentage after recording a season-high 16 blocks. The Eagles had four players eclipse double-digit kills and three others with at least 13 digs, but with the home crowd on its side, MSU prevailed in five sets (25-23, 21-25, 18-25, 25-22, 15-11). While Eastern was able to contain most of the Bobcat roster in that match, senior outside hitter Macy Page went off for 27 kills on a .420 clip, including 13 kills in the fourth and fifth sets combined.

Scouting Report

Montana

  • Montana currently has a 6-15 overall record and 4-8 mark in conference play to rank eighth out of 11 Big Sky teams. Based on that record, this upcoming match against UM certainly feels like another winnable one for EWU. But the Grizzlies come to Cheney playing their best volleyball of the season. They have won three of their last four conference duels, including a five-set victory on the road against arch-rival Montana State and a 3-1 triumph at home versus defending regular-season and tournament champion Northern Colorado.
  • Much of its recent success can be attributed to middle blocker Brooke Bray - the reigning Big Sky Player of the Week. The 6-1 junior averages 2.72 kills per set on a conference-leading .382 attack percentage. She had 17 kills with just two errors in the win over Montana State, and had 11 kills with zero errors versus the Bears.
  • Eastern will also have to watch out for junior outside hitter Kayla Reno, who ranks among the top 10 hitters in the league with a 3.02 kills per set average.
  • As a team, Montana boasts one of the most efficient offenses in the Big Sky, but on the defensive end, the Lady Griz rank in the bottom four in opponent hitting percentage, blocks and digs.

Montana State

  • After a 4-2 start to the Big Sky season, Montana State has lost four of its last six matches, including a 3-1 defeat at home to Sacramento State - the team EWU just swept for its very first win of the year.
  • Despite the run of bad luck for the team, junior outside hitter Sarah Horton has certainly turned in a few heroic performances as of late. In the last three matches, Horton has tallied 75 total kills on .314 attack percentage. Before posting 17 kills in MSU’s most recent win over North Dakota, Horton had four 20+ kills in a row, including a career-high (and just two shy of the all-time MSU record) 38 kills in the narrow loss to Montana. Needless to say, she is the leading hitter in the Big Sky, averaging 4.34 kills per set.
  • Montana State’s Macy Page also ranks among the top 10 hitters in the league, averaging 3.14 kills per set. Page had a career-high 27 kills in the Sept. 20 meeting against EWU.
  • While the Bobcats possess one of the most dangerous offenses in the Big Sky, ranking third in both kills and assists, MSU is last in blocking (2.09/set) and eight in both service aces (1.04/set) and opponent hitting percentage (.196).

Eagle News & Notes

Eagles Break Through!  After 22-consecutive losses, including 11-straight in conference play, the Eagles finally celebrated their first victory of the 2012 season on Monday (Oct. 22) at Reese Court. Behind a complete team effort, Eastern swept Sacramento State, 3-0. The win actually snapped a school-record 26-match losing streak that had dated back to Nov. 5, 2011. The Eagles lost the last four matches of the 2011 campaign before dropping the first 22 of this season.

First Set Leads to First Win: Not only did Eastern record its first ‘W’ of the 2012 season on Monday (Oct. 22), 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 Sac State, 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 after veteran Talia Fermantez went down with an injury to her left ankle. Doerpinghuas 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.

Shelby Shifts to Defensive Specialist: After two years starting as an outside hitter for the Eagles, senior Shelby Puckett has adopted a new role on the team. Puckett has proved to be one of Eastern’s most consistent passers and servers, and is one of the best defensive players on the court. Thus, the Latah, Wash., native now plays primarily in the back row. Since the move, Puckett has averaged 4.08 digs per set and 1.08 assists, while providing a reliable passer in serve receive. She has also had four service aces on a .961 serve percentage. Overall on the season, Puckett has 13 aces - the most on the team.

Schumacher Shines as a Starter: Since becoming a consistent member of EWU’s starting lineup, freshman outside hitter Allie Schumacher has averaged 2.72 kills per set and 1.67 digs. She has had six double-digit kill efforts in the last 10 outings, and has had at least one block in seven 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.

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. She also had five digs, two blocks and a service ace. The next night against Northern Arizona (Sept. 28), she 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.

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