Nov. 17, 2006
In a very tight match atypical of a sweep, the third-seeded Eastern Washington University volleyball team (20-8) defeated No. 2 Portland State (19-7) by 30-26, 32-30, 34-32 scores in a Big Sky Conference semifinal on Friday evening (Nov. 17). The Eagles move on to the championship match for the seventh consecutive season, which will be played at 7 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 18). The host, Sacramento State (28-5), will serve as the opponent, as the two battle play in the title match for the seventh straight year.
Eastern Washington showed excellent composure throughout the match, repeatedly keeping balls up and rallying from precarious situations. The win gives EWU its 20th of the campaign, marking the ninth time in the last 10 years that Eastern has reached that milestone. Overall, the Eagles have won six straight and 13-of-14 contests. Eastern Washington is now 9-3 all-time in the semifinal round.
"Portland State played well, and we certainly had to play a really fine match in order to get the win," head coach Wade Benson said. "The big key was that we made so many big plays when it counted every game.
"It was one of those nights when our role players were just ready to play. Chelsea Ross had nine kills, no errors, hit .692 (the third-highest hitting percentage in Big Sky Championship history), which was amazing. Our second setter, Ashley Gandauli, played front row in crunch time (at the end of game three), which she rarely does, and it did not really hurt us. Julia Reis played well. Addie Webster played at a different level tonight than last night. Chrystal Johnson had a lot of energy and was flying around.
"It was a real team win, no question about it. Everybody contributed to it."
The Eagles were led by Chelsea Ross, who hit .692 without an attack error (9-0-13) and had a very timely service ace in game three (when EWU trailed, 28-26), along with Addie Webster (16 kills, nine digs) and Chrystal Johnson (13 kills). Also contributing significantly were Mandy Daniels (team high 16 digs), Amanda Yausie (31 assists, nine digs) and Ashley Gandauli (22 assists).
The initial stanza was close throughout, as neither team was able to garner greater than a four-point lead throughout. Both of those were Eastern's at 18-14 and the final score of 30-26. PSU's largest advantage was three (7-4, 8-5 and 9-6). Chrystal Johnson had four kills in her first five attacks and the team hit .413 in the game with just three attack errors. Chelsea Ross finished the game with an .800 hitting percentage (4-0-5).
The second stanza was more of the same as, once again, the largest lead gained by either team was four, which was Eastern's at 5-1. For the bulk of the game, the teams were no more than three points apart. Portland State's largest lead of three came near the end at 27-24 after the Vikings broke a 24-all tie with three straight points. The Eagles responded, however, with two straight points and a 5-1 run to earn a game point at 29-28. After the squads traded points a few times, Eastern scored the last two times to win the game and go up, 2-0.
In the third game, Portland State came out strong, going on a 7-1 run to go up by five (the largest lead by either team thus far in the match), 11-6. Eastern Washington responded to a 12-7 deficit with a 6-1 run to tie the contest, 13-13. After PSU would go up, 19-17, with two straight points, Ross moved her hitting percentage to .800 (8-0-10) with excellent placement of an attack, as the ball saw paydirt on the back line.
With the Eagles down, 28-26, Ross provided an excellent service ace to pull within one. The mental toughness of Eastern got the Eagles through four Portland State game points (29-28, 30-29, 31-30 and 32-31), and EWU scored the final three points off kills by Julia Reis and Webster and a Viking attack error to secure the victory.
"We showed some guts and had no fear; that is a big deal," Benson said. "I don't think we ever felt stressed. We just stayed within ourselves and made plays. Since we did it in games one and two, we clearly had the feeling we could do it in game three, as well."
Eastern has now defeated the Vikings in the semifinal round three straight years and was able to end Portland State's six-match winning streak.
The Eagles have won two tournament titles (1989, 2001) and played in the NCAA Tournament on four occasions (1989, 1998, 1999, 2001). Fellow finalist Sacramento State has claimed seven titles (four straight) and qualified for NCAAs on nine separate occasions. The Hornets have won six straight contests and 17-of-18, including a 30-21, 30-18, 30-25 win over Northern Colorado in the other semifinal played tonight.
This season, EWU fell on the road to the Hornets, 30-20, 30-23, 30-21, in its last contest before its current hot streak and dropped a tight home contest to Sac State, 26-30, 30-26, 32-34, 30-24, 17-15. That loss was Eastern's sole setback in the last 14 matches the Eagles have played.
The next match for EWU is at 7 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 18), as the Eagles play for the Big Sky championship. The contest can be listened to on the Internet free of charge at www.hornetsports.com/audio, while live video can be purchased at www.bigskytv.org.