Eagles Fall Short in Battle with Bobcats

Eagles give up big run in third set, as Montana State wins first match at Reese Court in more than a decade

After two inspiring wins at Reese Court, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team could not complete the sweep, as it closed out a three-match home stand with a 3-0 (25-22, 29-27, 25-21) loss to the Bobcats of Montana State on Saturday (Oct. 27) in Cheney, Wash.

With the loss, EWU falls to 2-23 overall and 2-12 in the Big Sky season, while also snapping a 10-match winning streak against the Bobcats in Cheney. Prior to Saturday, Montana State (13-9, 7-7) had not prevailed at Reese Court since 2001, and had only won four of 34 sets played.

Although it ended up as a sweep for MSU, Eastern did not surrender easily in Saturday night's match of runs.

In the first set, Montana State took a commanding 21-14 advantage, but after earning a sideout on a Bobcat hitting error, EWU scored eight of the next 10 points to pull within one at 23-22. Montana State head coach Kyle Weindel called a timeout to interrupt the Eagle momentum, and it worked, as Eastern committed a service error immediately after the break. MSU'S Sarah Horton, the leading hitter in the Big Sky, put managed to finally put the first set away with a kill on the final point.

Eastern's fortitude was even more impressive in the second set, as it rallied from a seemingly improbable deficit to force extra points. Much like in the first, Montana State enjoyed a 22-14 lead, but saw the tables quickly turn after committing a service error. Sparked by three-consecutive kills from senior Cora Kellerman, Eastern went on a 10-2 scoring spree to tie it up at 24-24. After saving four MSU set points, Eastern had its own opportunity at 27-26, but before the Eagles could deliver the serve, MSU called another timeout. Coming out of the break, Horton rattled off back-to-back kills to give her team a 28-27 edge. EWU committed a hitting error on the final point for the tough 29-27 defeat.

"We fought like heck the last eight points of both sets, but unfortunately, that was not enough," said EWU head coach Lisa Westlake. "We did not take the court with much energy tonight, and that really hurt us because by the time we realized the sense of urgency in the match, it was too late. Montana State had it."

Eastern conceded the first three points of the third set, but charged back to take a commanding 20-13 lead. But much like Eastern had done in the previous two sets, Montana State found a way to erase that advantage. After hammering one of her match-high 19 kills, Horton stepped behind the service line and delivered seven unanswered points. She missed her next serve coming out of an EWU timeout, but the Bobcats quickly got it back on a block by Jennifer Lundquist and Taylar Barney. Eastern did not score another point, as the Bobcats sustained the run for a 25-21 victory in the third.

"Montana State definitely put pressure on us, but we were putting more on ourselves," said Westlake. "Once we got to 20, we started playing not to lose instead of putting our foot on the gas and going with it. We had a mental lapse. If you can't stay in the moment and just play point to point, it becomes a little scary, and that's what happened."

Led by Horton, the Bobcats ended up with 46 kills on a .234 attack percentage. Eastern hit a .131 clip with 39 kills and 22 errors on 130 total swings.

"Montana State has a good offensive arsenal, and they utilized it really well tonight," said Westlake. "Their offense was just executed a little bit better than ours. We dug and passed okay, but offensively, we were not getting the job done."

Kellerman led the Eagles with 11 kills, but hit only .128 for the match. Sophomore middle blocker Talia Fermantez had nine kills, while freshmen Kellen Barfield and Allie Schumacher each added five.

The Eagles did have a slight advantage in digs at 59-56, and had just four service errors compared to 11 for the Bobcats.

Junior libero Celeste Crosby led the team in the back row with 13 pickups, while junior Ashley Wright came off the bench to contribute 10.

With exception of Barfield, every player who entered the match on Saturday had at least two digs.

Eastern will be back on the road for its next four Big Sky matches, starting with a tough test against Northern Arizona, which ranks third in the conference with a 10-3 record. The match on Thursday (Nov. 1) in Flagstaff, Ariz., will be televised regionally on Fox Sports Arizona and FCS.

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