Back on the road, Eastern prepares to face opponents at the top and bottom of the conference standings
What's Ahead for the Eags
To close out the first half of the 2012 Big Sky Conference season, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team will play two teams that come from opposite ends of the Big Sky standings.
The Eagles face Weber State on Thursday (Oct. 11) in Ogden, Utah, before taking on Idaho State on Saturday (Oct. 13) in Pocatello. The Wildcats are currently in ninth place in the standings with a 1-7 league record - just two games ahead of EWU. The Bengals, on the other hand, are enjoying their best start in conference in more than two decades. ISU sits in second place with an impressive 7-1 record, which includes an undefeated 5-0 mark at Reed Gym. Conversely, Weber State is winless this season at the Connolly Center.
Eastern played its last four matches within the friendly confines of Reese Court, but the team was not able to capitalize on the home-court advantage, as it dropped all four matches to Southern Utah, Northern Arizona, North Dakota and Northern Colorado. EWU did however take at least one set in three of those four matchups.
If history is any indication though, Eastern may have its best shot at capturing that elusive first win in its matches this weekend. Over the last decade, Eastern has won 57 of 63 meetings against Weber State and Idaho State combined. The Eagles have not dropped a match to ISU in three-straight years, and have won eight of the last nine against the Wildcats.
- Weber State, under the direction of second-year head coach Tom Peterson, has had similar struggles to EWU in the 2012 conference season. The Wildcats are last in the Big Sky in hitting percentage, opponent hitting percentage and kills - all of which are categories Eastern also ranks low in. The Eagles have proved to be a much better digging team than WSU, averaging 15.23 digs per set, compared to just 11.50 for Weber State. But the Wildcats have the edge in both blocking and serving.
- Just like Eastern, the Wildcats have endured four sweeps so far in Big Sky play. Their other three losses came against Southern Utah and Sac State in four, and a five-set defeat at the hands of North Dakota. The Wildcats did manage to upend Montana in a tight 3-2 decision on the road.
- The Wildcats are led by freshman outside hitter Rebecca Fuchs, who averages 3.57 kills per set. Fuchs is definitely the go-to, with twice as many swings as any other player on their roster. WSU does not have a single other player who averages more than 2.00 kills per set.
- Middle blocksers Briana Wilms and Audrey Gee do make significant contributions on the defensive side of the ball though, combining for 2.24 blocks per set. As a team, the Wildcats rank fifth in the Big Sky in blocking.
- Idaho State played its first four conference games at home, and the Bengals made the most of the advantageous scheduling with wins against Northern Arizona, Southern Utah, Northern Colorado and North Dakota. In its first road test, the Bengals lost in five to Montana State - the same fate suffered by EWU in Bozeman. But the Bengals have rebounded well, winning their last three in a row against Montana, Weber State and Sac State. ISU has yet to play the top team in the league - Portland State - but the two will meet on Friday (Oct. 12).
- With two players averaging more than three kills per set, and two more with nearly 2.50, Idaho State is the clear kills leader in the Big Sky Conference. In fact, the Bengals rank among the top 50 nationally in that category, as well as in assists per set. They are in the top 40 in offensive efficiency with a .248 season hitting percentage.
- Sophomore outside hitter Tressa Lyman is the top threat for ISU, averaging 3.50 kills per set on a .232 clip. But senior Breanne Van Every can be just as lethal on the outside, with a 3.00 kills per set average on .221 hitting. Middle blocker Jaclyn Hone-Hawkins contributes 2.59 kills per set with a team-leading .294 efficiency.
- Idaho State’s impressive offense is in large part a product of junior setter Lori Mendenhall, who averages 11.13 assists per game to rank first in the Big Sky and 32nd nationally.
Eagle News & Notes
First Set Setbacks: In 19 matches this season,
Eastern Washington has yet to win a first set. Eastern has endured
12 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.
Efficient Middle Hitting: This season, Eastern is starting a freshman and 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 3.97 kills per set on a .260 attack percentage. With only one outside hitter currently hitting above .200 in conference play, Eastern’s will rely on the efficiency of its starting middles.
Kelsey Comes on Strong: Sophomore Kelsey Julian has had double-digit kills in Eastern’s three most recent contests, and is the only outside on the roster hitting above .200 in conference play. 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. Julian 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.
Schumacher Delivers as a Starter: Since becoming a consistent member of EWU’s starting lineup, freshman outside hitter Allie Schumacher has averaged 2.50 kills per set and 1.50 digs. She has had four double-digit kill efforts in the last six outings, and has had at least one block in five. She registered her first-career double-double against North Dakota (Oct. 4) with 13 kills and 10 digs.
Due to Injuries, Eagle 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. Three of those five affected players, including seniors Laney Brown and Shelby Puckett and junior 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.
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. Two weeks before the 2012 season began, senior setter Laney 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 Lindsay 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.