Eagles Open Big Sky Season Thursday at Sac State
Despite a number of injuries, Eastern optimistic as it heads into league play
What's Happening This Week
It was not the smoothest preseason, but the Eastern Washington University volleyball team survived, and now looks ahead to conference with sanguinity and excitement. Eastern begins Big Sky play this Thursday (Sept. 13) at Sacramento State. First serve from Colberg Court is scheduled for 7 p.m. Pacific time. The Eagles will then make their home debut the following Monday (Sept. 17) against Portland State.
In the first month of the 2012 season, EWU was hit with a rash of injuries, as well as an unexpected coaching change. Eastern played its first nine matches of the year without a veteran setter, while also dealing with limited personnel and experience in the back row.
Senior setter Laney Brown was able to return to the starting lineup during last weekend’s tournament at Iowa State. But almost as soon as she was back in the rotation, Eastern lost two more important players.
Freshman defensive specialist Serena Ah Choy suffered an injury to her right hand during Eastern’s match against Syracuse (Sept. 7), and senior Shelby Puckett exited the final match of the tourney against Iowa (Sept. 8) with a sprained ankle.
Puckett, who was an All-Big Sky second-team selection in 2011 and had played every rotation for EWU this season, is questionable for Thursday’s match at Sac State. Her availability based on this injury will be assessed match-to-match.
Ah Choy is expected to be out for at least two weeks.
“Despite these continuing injuries, we are improving with every match,” said EWU head coach Lisa Westlake, who assumed that role just two weeks ago on Aug. 28. “We played really well together in the last match of the [Iowa State] tournament, and that was after Shelby and Serena had gone out. In the locker room post game, the team felt encouraged because they saw good things happen. They are excited about practice this week and getting into the Big Sky schedule, where they’ll see familiar opponents.
“But the most important thing for us right now is the mental game,” added Westlake. “We have to stay positive and continue to work on being better as a cohesive unit. It’s all about our ability to keep fighting and keep competing. That mental strength is like any other skill you might learn. It takes time to master, and you have to practice it every day.”
- Sacramento State has been one of the toughest opponents for Eastern over the years. The Hornets lead the all-time series, 29-13, which includes a 19-4 advantage when playing in Sacramento. In the most recent 2011 series, EWU dropped the match on the road, 3-0, before narrowly losing at home in Cheney, 3-2.
- Eastern has only celebrated four victories at Colberg Court throughout history, but one of those wins was with the seniors on this year’s roster. In 2009, Eastern swept the regular-season series against Sac State, which of course included a 3-1 victory in Sacramento.
Scouting the Hornets
- Sac State owns a 4-5 record in the 2012 season. The Hornets and Eagles shared one opponent during the preseason in Boise State. Eastern lost to BSU on the road, 3-0, while Sac State was able to upend the Broncos, 3-1. But Sac had the privilege of playing Boise State at its home tournament in Sacramento.
- The Hornets returned three starters and four other letterwinners from the 2011 squad that finished third in the Big Sky race with a 10-6 record. Sac State did lose two All-Big Sky players though in libero Breanne Menees and middle blocker Kelsey Elston.
- So far this season, senior outside hitters Jessie Genger and Janelle Currey have proved to be the biggest offensive threats for Sac State, as both players average more than 3.20 kills per set. Sac State also has three different players who are all averaging more than one block per set.