Eagles Take Two Sets Off Montana State, but Can’t Hold on For the Breakthrough Win

Eastern battles in marathon match, but Bobcats use a couple of late runs to deny Eagles first win of season

They have been here before, but this one was a little harder to swallow. After 13-straight losses, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team had the first win of the season just within reach, but behind the palpable energy of a home crowd, the Bobcats of Montana State prevailed with a narrow 3-2 (25-23, 21-25, 18-25, 25-22, 15-11) decision on Thursday (Sept. 20) at Shroyer Gym in Bozeman, Mont.

Although Eastern (0-14, 0-3 Big Sky) lost the match, the team did celebrate victory on a smaller scale with wins in the second and third sets. Eastern had not taken a single set off an opponent in since Sept. 1, when the team battled South Dakota State to four in Spokane, Wash. After enduring seven-consecutive sweeps, the 3-2 loss was certainly seen as a moral triumph.

“It’s encouraging,” said EWU head coach Lisa Westlake. “Our lineup worked, we were gelling and the most importantly - we can see ourselves improving.

“We obviously would like to be winning more, but we played better tonight, and that’s a step. Our compass may be a little different than everybody else’s right now. We are taking things one step at a time, but as long as we continue to do the things we practice, believe in ourselves and keep improving, it will turn around. And that's already started happening.”

After the two inspiring wins in the second and third sets, Eastern enjoyed a one-set advantage for the first time in the 2012 season. The Eagles and Bobcats saw 11 ties and five lead changes in the fourth set before the home team was able to close it out a 4-0 run.

“After winning the third game, we let off the gas a little bit in the fourth,” said Westlake. “That cannot happen. You have to take full advantage when you have the momentum.”

Eastern jumped out to 4-0 lead in the fifth, which seems significant when the set is decided at 15. But back-to-back kills by MSU’s Sarah Horton and Eli Svisco sparked a devastating 11-2 run for the Bobcats. The Eagles managed to stop the bleeding, scoring five of the next six points to pull within two in at 13-11. But after a solo block by junior Ashley Wright, Montana State regrouped, and rattled off two-consecutive kills to win the set and match, 15-11.

Eastern had its best blocking performance of the season, as it bested MSU in that category, 16-10. Redshirt-freshman Kellen Barfield and sophomore Talia Fermantez led the team with six a piece, while true freshman Allie Schumacher added five. Wright finished with four blocks, and seniors Cora Kellerman and Shelby Puckett each contributed three.

“It was definitely our best blocking night of the year,” said Westlake. “It was great to see the team so engaged with what was happening on the other side of the court.”

Barfield was equally impressive on the offensive end, with 11 kills and zero errors on 25 attempts. She led all hitters in the match with a .440 attack percentage. Three other Eagles eclipsed double-digit kills, including Puckett and Schumacher, who both finished with 11. Fermantez chipped in 10 for the Eagles, while also leading the team behind the service line with two aces.

Senior setter Laney Brown notched her second double-double of the year with 40 assists and 13 digs. Kellerman had a slow night offensively with just six kills, but she led the team in the back row with 17 pickups.

Suiting up as libero for the first time in more than a year and half, junior Celeste Crosby had 16 digs and two assists.

The Eagles now head to Montana to take on the 2-9 Lady Griz on Saturday (Sept. 22) in Missoula.

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