Nov. 16, 2006
The Eastern Washington University volleyball team (19-8) moved on to the Big Sky Conference semifinals with a 29-31, 30-18, 35-33, 30-26 win on Thursday (Nov. 16) over upstart Weber State (9-24), who entered the tournament riding a five-match winning streak. The Eagles now play the second seed, Portland State (19-6), in a semifinal contest on Friday (Nov. 17) with first serve slated for 5 p.m. The tournament is being hosted by regular-season champion Sacramento State.
The Eagles were led by Brittney Page, who responded to being blocked on the final play of Eastern's loss in game one to have just one more attack error the entire match. In the contest, she hit .442 (21-2-43) with a match-high 21 kills and tie for the ninth-most blocks recorded by an Eagle in 2006 with a total of six. She also was second on the team in assists with four.
"Brittney got challenged after game one and completely responded like you would want to senior to do, with 21 kills, six blocks, four digs and four assists," head coach Wade Benson said.
The third game saw Eastern rally from an improbably deficit in the Big Sky Championship for the second straight year. Last season in the semifinal round, the Eagles were down to Portland State, 29-24, in the fourth game of a 3-1 win and rallied with five straight points and won, 34-32. Tonight, EWU was down, 29-25, and stormed back once again with five consecutive tallies for a 30-29 lead on its way to the 35-33 victory.
"I think coming back in game three was a difference in the match," Benson said. "It gave us some inspiration, certainly, and provided us with knowledge that we could win the match. It showed a lot of heart and skill to go on a 5-0 run at that point in the match. It was an amazing run in a championship setting."
Kerri Beck and Addie Webster tallied 12 kills each. Beck had six blocks, as well, to tie for the ninth-most tallied by an EWU player in 2006, while Webster contributed 11 digs to record her 12th consecutive double-double. Leading the squad in digs was Mandy Daniels, who recorded 19. Amanda Yausie had 49 assists in the contest.
"Blocking was a difference in the match, certainly in games three and four (EWU had 10 of its 13 blocks in those two games)," Benson said. "We really kept Weber in check and forced them into some error swings."
In the first game, Weber State made up for its errors on the service line (seven service errors in that game, including four in the first 12 rallies, after only averaging just 2.3 per game entering the contest) by committing just one attack error and hitting .444 in the contest (17-1-36). Until the very end of the stanza, Weber's only lead came at 21-20. The squads were tied at 27, 28 and 29 (Eastern staved off a game point at 29-28 with a nice pass-set-kill combination) before the Wildcats scored the final two points of the game.
The second game saw Eastern allow the first point and then reel off four straight and not look back. The Eagles increased their lead to as much as 15 at 28-13 before claiming the victory. Page, who saw game one end on a blocked attack of hers, had a spectacular game, hitting .667 (6-0-9).
In a crazy third game, Weber State earned its only early lead at 12-11 before going on a late 8-1 run for a 27-21 advantage. At that point, four straight EWU points, including the last two on overpasses hit straight down by Beck, brought the Eagles back to within two at 27-25. After Eastern was brought to the brink at 29-25, five straight points brought the Eagles to game point, 30-29. With the score tied, 33-33, a great put-down block by Page and Stephanie Baker gave Eastern a 34-33 lead and a Weber attack error allowed Eastern to score its winning point. Each team had three game points each in the stanza, and the game was Eastern's highest-scoring one played this year.
Weber State came out strong in the fourth game, scoring the first three points, but Eastern tallied the next five scores and would never relinquish its lead. The advantage got as high as 11 at 22-11 before Weber State rallied with five straight points and an 8-1 run to come within 23-19. The Wildcats would get as close as three (24-21 and 29-26) before Eastern put the finishing touches on its victory.
"Weber played a nice match, but we did not play up to our regular standard," Benson said. "We just were not really on the same page tonight. One of the reasons for our success this year is that we have been playing as a team in the true sense of the word, but tonight it seemed to break apart, and we played a little bit more as individuals.
"We are in the semifinals again and a lot has to be said in a good way about that."
The Eagles have now won 12-of-13 contests, having rebounded nicely from a 0-5 Big Sky start to finish 10-6 and in third place, the 11th straight year that Eastern Washington has placed third or higher in the final regular-season standings. Eastern has now won 11-of-12 meetings with Weber State.
Eastern Washington now takes on the second seed, Portland State (19-6, 14-2 Big Sky), in a Big Sky semifinal contest. That match will commence at 5 p.m. on Friday (Nov. 17). The Eagles and Vikings have played each other in the semifinal round the last two seasons, with EWU claiming both of those. In fact, Eastern has won six consecutive semifinal contests and are 8-3 all-time in that round of the championship.
The championship match will commence at 7 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 18). All matches of the tournament have free live audio available at www.hornetsports.com/audio, while video feeds can be purchased at www.bigskytv.org.