August 21, 2007

Eagles Open 2007 Season in Arizona

Aug. 21, 2007

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The Eastern Washington Eagles begin the 2007 campaign this weekend with its earliest start date in the NCAA Division I era, Aug. 24.

Eastern will open up play at the Sheraton Four Points Wildcat Classic, hosted by the University of Arizona. First up for the Eagles will be a 12:30 p.m. contest on Friday (Aug. 24) versus Saint Mary's. The Eagles then take on Arizona that night at 7.

The weekend's play concludes the next day, as EWU takes on Utah State at 4 p.m.

Last season, the Gaels went 11-14, 6-8 in West Coast Conference play, and were selected sixth (of eight) in the WCC's 2007 preseason poll. Saint Mary's did, however, receive one of the eight first-place votes.

Arizona is coming off its first losing season in 14 years, 13-17 (4-14 in Pac-10 play). The Wildcats were selected sixth in the Pac-10 preseason poll and did receive votes in the AVCA preseason top-25 poll.

The Utah State Aggies went 13-19 last season, 6-10 in Western Athletic Conference contests, and were selected seventh in the nine-team WAC preseason poll.

The Eagles will now have opened the past nine seasons (1999-2007) in nine different districts/states (in chronological order from 1999: District of Columbia, Michigan, Maine, Florida, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Kansas and Arizona).

Coach's Thoughts on the Weekend

"What we're trying to get out of this tournament is cohesive play and understanding of the offense and defense," interim head coach Irene Matlock said. "I'm not as personally concerned with a won-loss record as I am the learning process which will occur, as we have a short learning curve time.

"I'm excited for the season to start. This is our first road trip, so it's a lot of fun, a lot of high expectations, so we'll see how it goes."

700 Collegiate Wins and Counting

The mentor for the Eagles this year will be interim head coach Irene Matlock, who comes to Eastern with an impressive resume garnered from her time as the head coach at the Community Colleges of Spokane.

In her time at CCS, she recorded a stunning 715-246 record (.744 winning percentage), attaining winning marks in every season. Her 1988 record of 54-2 (.964) earned her the highest win total and winning percentage in Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (NWAACC) history.

In 1994, she was named the AVCA National Coach of the Year at the community college level.

She also has previous experiences with Eastern Washington, having earned a master's in science degree from the school in 1979. From 1977-79, she served as assistant coach and athletic intern, and she acted as the program services administrator in 1979.

She takes over for former head coach Wade Benson, who departed on July 2 to take a position at Auburn.

Amanda and Mandy Lead the Way

The Eastern Washington Eagles enter the 2007 campaign a very young team, as evidenced by its freshman-sophomore-junior-senior breakdown of 7-5-1-2. The Eagles return one starter (plus the libero), allowing many players to earn the opportunity for playing time.

Returning from last year's starting lineup will be sophomore setter Amanda Yausie and junior libero Mandy Daniels.

Amazing Amanda

Eagle sophomore setter Amanda Yausie had an outstanding freshman season for Eastern, placing fourth among Big Sky Conference players in assists per game and 201st nationally with 9.68. She was also fourth in the league in service aces per game with 0.34.

Her season-high assist total of 55 came in an Oct. 5 four-game win road over Montana State. She finished the season with matches of 50+ assists and 11 with 40 or more assists tallied.

Stable in the Back

The Eagles return the mainstay of their backcourt in Mandy Daniels, as the junior is coming off an outstanding 2006 season. She placed sixth in the Big Sky Conference and 152nd among NCAA Division I players in digs per game with 4.4. When only conference matches were considered, her outstanding average of 5.36 digs per contest placed her second in the league.

She saved her best effort for last in 2006, as she had a 30-dig output in Eastern's conference championship match showdown with Sacramento State. That total helped Eastern as a team tally 101 digs, 12 more than the team's previous season high.

Jumping Jacoby (and Baby)

Heather Jacoby (maiden name Gordon) is returning to the Eagle volleyball program after a two-year hiatus. In that time period, she and her husband, Michael, lived in Leesville, La., where he served in the Army at Fort Polk. During their time there, two hurricanes (Rita and Katrina) hit the area, which is located about 110 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico and near the Texas border.

She and Michael have a son, Justin, who was born on Feb. 16, 2007.

Ridiculous Ross

Sophomore outside hitter Chelsea Ross ended the 2006 season on the highest of highs, not only leading the team in hitting percentage in its two biggest matches of the season, but nearly breaking a record in the process.

In Eastern's 3-0 sweep over Portland State in the Big Sky Conference semifinals, Ross hit .692 (9-0-13), the third-highest hitting percentage in Big Sky Championship history

The next day, she hit .333 (5-1-12) in the championship match showdown with Sacramento State.

Wood Faces Former Team

Eagle assistant coach Rebecca Wood played for the Saint Mary's Gaels, Eastern's opponent in its season-opening contest on Friday, prior to transferring to Gonzaga to finish her career.

She was a member of SMC's squad for the 2000, 2001 and 2002 seasons before finishing her career at (and earning her degree from) GU.

Time to Make Some Noise

The Eagles enter 2007 with an amazing attendance streak, having averaged at least 1,000 fans per match for the past eight seasons.

Eastern Washington has also placed in the top 30 nationally in average attendance for the past 10 seasons with a high placement of 13th coming in 2003 (1,641 fans per contest).

Last year, Eastern Washington averaged 1,297 spectators per match, its best average in three years, and placed 26th in the final national rankings.

The Eagles have used that advantage to the utmost over the past 10 years, going 85-12 (.876 winning percentage) in that time frame.

EWU on TV in the Islands

The Eagles will have all three of their matches at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Volleyball Challenge broadcast live on KFVE, a local television station in Honolulu. Eagle fans located elsewhere can purchase access to watch the contests online at www.hawaiiantelmedia.com (information is not available about that tournament as of yet, but will be as the tournament nears).

Eagles Place Fifth in Preseason Poll

The Eastern Washington Eagles were selected fifth in the Big Sky Conference's preseason poll. Five-time defending champion Sacramento placed first and was followed by Portland State, Montana, Weber State, EWU, Northern Arizona, Idaho State, Northern Colorado and Montana State.

Big Sky Championship Alterations

There will be a couple of changes to the Big Sky Conference Championship this year, as the tournament will be played at a predetermined site and will be contested over just two days, not three.

Sacramento State, by virtue of its regular-season title last year, will play host to the Championship. Previously, the current season's regular-season champion would host the tournament.

The matches will take place from Nov. 23-24, with both the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds taking place the first day and the final the second.

The NCAA Tournament begins the following weekend at 16 nonpredetermined campus sites throughout the country.

Audio/Video Coverage

All matches played either at Reese Court or on the road in Big Sky Conference play will be available to view on the Internet through the Eagle GamePlan. Information on subscribing may be accessed at www.goeags.com. Passes may be purchased for EWU contests only (which includes football and men's and women's basketball games, as well), all Big Sky Conference teams' matches or for single games.

Audio coverage for Eagle football games will be available through KGA's website,  www.1510kga.com. Men's and women's basketball contests will be broadcast through Teamline and may be accessed at www.teamline.cc. There is no cost for these broadcasts.

More information, including rosters, schedules, releases and statistics for every Eastern Washington University athletics team, may be accessed at www.goeags.com.

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Season Preview - Youngsters Will be Looked on to Lead the Eastern Washington Eagles in 2007

The Eagle volleyball team will enter the 2007 campaign a tight bunch, a young group of players ready to take on all comers. There will be a lot of competition for playing time as the season rolls itself out, as Eastern Washington returns just one of six starters (in addition to the libero) and has 12 underclassmen on its 15-player roster.

Leading the way for EWU will be interim head coach Irene Matlock, who takes over the reigns after having coached 19 years at the community college level. In her time as the Community Colleges of Spokane mentor, she recorded a stunning 715-246 record (.744 winning percentage), attaining winning marks in every season. In 1988, she compiled an incredible 54-2 record (.964), earning the highest win total and top winning percentage in Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (NWAACC) history.

Matlock is taking over after seven-year head coach Wade Benson departed to take a position at Auburn University. The two assistant coaches under Benson, Miles Kydd and Rebecca Wood, will return to the Eagle staff this year.

The Eagles are coming off a successful 2006 season, which saw Eastern impressively rally from a slow start. After losing its first five Big Sky Conference matches for the first time since 1995 and starting its overall campaign 7-7, the Eagles employed a refuse-to-lose philosophy the rest of the way, winning 13-of-15 contests to conclude the season.

This year's squad will be filled with seven freshmen, five sophomores, one junior and a pair of seniors.

"With Wade's departure coming so late (July 2), there was a lot of turmoil, and the athletes came into camp more united as a group then they have been in the past," Kydd said. "The people who are the true leaders of our team stepped up this past month and showed themselves."

Setters

The setting position will be one of the strongest for Eastern, as sophomore Amanda Yausie will be joined by Ashley Hamilton, a sophomore transfer from the University of Arizona.

"If we are going to do well this year, Amanda and Ashley are going to have to do well for us by setting the ball accurately and consistently," Kydd said. "They both have a lot of leadership potential and need to be on-court generals for us to do well, and they're capable of doing that. They need to be leaders of a very young group, being young themselves."

Yausie took the bulk of the setting time last year and placed fourth among all Big Sky setters with 9.68 assists per game. Five times in 2006, she recorded 50 or more assists in a contest.

"Amanda played on Canada's junior national team as a defensive specialist and has a wealth of experience," Kydd said. "She has great instincts for the game and just needs to allow herself to follow those."

Hamilton saw time in eight games for the Wildcats, recording 10 assists, a pair of digs and a block, while serving in a back-up role to senior Stephanie Butkus, who would end her time at the U of A with the second-highest career assist total in school history (4,035).

"Ashley was a (Volleyball Magazine) Fab 50 kid coming out of high school, and she was in a Pac-10 program," Kydd said. "She didn't get the opportunity there and hopefully that makes her hungrier to prove herself."

Outside Hitters

Competing for playing time in the outside hitter position will be Jacque Brown, Alysha Cook, Courtney Goodson, Hayley Hills, Heather Jacoby, Chelsea Ross and Hannah Thompson.

Brown, a freshman, arrives in Cheney from Waterville (Wash.) High School, where she earned Honorable Mention 2B All-State accolades and was named the MVP of the North Central League. She also helped lead the team to a sixth-place performance at state this past season.

"Jacque is a dynamic athlete, easily one of the best on the team, who moves very well and is a great passer," Kydd said. "She's definitely going to get a chance to play a significant amount this year. She is a good athlete who can contribute for us this year."

Cook is also a freshman from the state of Washington, having played her volleyball at Kennewick High School. As a Lion, she earned First Team 3A All-State honors and was named MVP of the Columbia Basin League her senior season.

"Alysha, a left-handed athletic player, is imposing in terms that she is big, strong and can jump out of the gym," Kydd said. "She definitely could come in and make a contribution right away. Her best skill is blocking. She just needs to be more consistent with things she does. She is going to be a good player in this conference, a physical, dominant player."

Goodson redshirted the 2006 season after lettering three years at Pomona High School in Arvada, Colo. She helped lead PHS to a 25-win season as a senior and earned 5A All-State honorable mention accolades. Goodson was also named the team's MVP.

"Courtney spent a lot of time last year recovering from an ankle injury, and she has been working hard in the off-season," Kydd said. "She is definitely in the mix. For her, it's a consistency thing. Her best is really good; she just needs to do her best more often."

Jacoby played for the Eagles in the 2003 and 2004 seasons under her maiden name, Heather Gordon, prior to leaving school for a couple years to be with her husband, Michael, who was serving in the Army at Fort Polk in Louisiana. While at Eastern, the senior saw time in 26 matches.

"Heather is a returning player, having played for us a couple years ago," Kydd said. "She is a skilled player who adds a lot. She has an impressive work ethic and her maturity level will help our group of players."

Ross played in 29 matches for the 2006 Eagles and saved her best for last. In Eastern Washington's 3-0 sweep of Portland State in the Big Sky semifinals, the junior hit .692 (9-0-13) to record the third-highest hitting percentage in tournament history. She also led the team in hitting (.333) in the league championship match versus Sacramento State the next day.

"Chelsea is a fourth-year sophomore (she redshirted her first two years, the second due to a knee injury) who is a strong leader," Kydd said. "She showed in the spring that she can compete and played well against Gonzaga this spring. She played very well for us in the Big Sky Tournament last year, getting into the record books. She's a good passer and a good server and knows the things she needs to do for her to play well. She's definitely going to be looked at as a veteran, even though she's a sophomore who has not played that much for us."

Hills played well her freshman season, earning the fourth-highest hitting percentage on the team, .270. She had her best match in a four-game win over Texas-San Antonio, recording 14 kills, 13 digs and three service aces, all personal season highs.

"Hayley played a little bit last year, mostly in the preseason, but she is a player who has no limit to what she can do physically," Kydd said. "She is our most dynamic explosive athlete and is going to be counted on, with the little bit of experience she had last year, to step up and carry us offensively. She's our best chance for someone to be a dominant hitter."

Thompson is coming to the Eagle squad from Nikiski, Alaska, where she helped lead the Nikiski High School Bulldogs to top-six performances at the 3A state tournament all four years. She was named to the All-Tournament Team each of those seasons.

"Hannah is a good athlete, and her back-court skills are going to be her strength right now," Kydd said. "She is capable at the net, but on the smaller side. We are interested to see what she can do over the long term as she gets stronger and jumps higher."

Middle Blockers

The two middle blockers playing for the Eagles in 2007 will be Chenoa Coviare and Allison Reinstein.

Coviare redshirted the 2006 season after completing a successful career at South Medford (Ore.) High School. While there, she was twice named to the All-Southern Oregon Conference's second team. Her junior year, she helped lead the Panthers to just its third appearance at the state tournament in school history.

"Chenoa is one of the best athletes on our team and touches over 10 feet," Kydd said. "She just needs to be more assertive on the court, both hitting and blocking, and be dominant on the net. Physically, she's capable of doing that - it's just the heart and desire of being that player."

Reinstein also used her redshirt season in 2006. As a middle blocker at Livermore (Calif.) High School, she earned two varsity letters and also saw success in club volleyball. While playing for the Delta Valley Volleyball Club's 18 Blue team, she helped lead the team to a third-place finish at the national division in the Junior Olympics in Atlanta, Ga.

"Allison is not as physically gifted as Chenoa, but her work ethic and desire to be a team player not only makes her great to have on our team, but when she comes hard, she can be impressive," Kydd said. "She can be a really good hitter for us; she just needs to be more consistent. If she can play at her top level consistently, we'll be fine in the middle, knock on wood."

Defensive Specialists

Playing in the back row will be Mandy Daniels, Mallory Mielke, JaNae Mortensen and Kristen Ponce.

Daniels is coming off an outstanding season, as she led the team and, when Big Sky Conferences matches only are considered, placed second in the league's rankings in digs per game (4.40 and 5.36, respectively). She had her season- and career-high dig total of 30 in the Big Sky's championship match, helping the Eagles as a team tally 101 digs, besting the previous season high in that category by 12.

"Mandy could be the best libero in our conference," Kydd said. "Her ability to pass the ball is as good or better than anyone in the Big Sky. There's no point when she panics; she's a cool cucumber. She makes everything look easy, and not many players can do that."

Mielke is a freshman who played her high school volleyball at Davenport (Wash.) High School. While at DHS, she was named 2B All-State the past three years, earning first team accolades in 2005 and second team honors in 2004 and 2006. She also helped lead the squad to top-four finishes at state the past three seasons.

"Mallory is a walk-on, a hard-working team player," Kydd said. "Time will tell to see how much she improves, but she will not be limited by her positive attitude. We're looking to her to help as a defensive specialist or a setter. She was a setter in high school, so if we need help in that area, she can help fill in in spots."

Mortensen is a sophomore transfer from Snow College, where her digs per game average of 2.81 outpaced the rest of her teammates by 1.26 per stanza. That average also placed her fifth in the Scenic West Athletic Conference. She is an excellent server, as evidenced by her 36 service aces last year (0.34 per game).

"JaNae is a transfer from Snow College who is an aggressive player," Kydd said. "She serves the ball tough and has a take-charge personality. She will probably find her way onto the court in the back row. She has a lot of potential."

Ponce is a senior who has played the past two years for the Eagles after transferring from Saint Martin's College. She had 2.78 digs per game last year, placing her third on the squad, and recorded a season-high total of 25 in a four-game win over Texas-San Antonio. She was playing at a high level before unfortunately suffering a knee injury in early October.

"Kristen is recovering from her millionth knee surgery, it seems like," Kydd said. "She is at 80 percent right now and we need to get her to 100 percent before we consider playing her. We obviously expect that when she comes in, she's going to provide that senior leadership, that presence on the court and lift us up. Kristen can help us a lot if she's healthy."

Schedule

The schedule will be top notch, as 11 matches will be versus teams who ranked in the top 100 of the final RPI last season. Two will take place against AVCA preseason top-25 squads (No. 10 Hawai'i and 24th-ranked Santa Clara), while four more are against teams listed in the "others receiving votes" category (one apiece against Arizona and Wichita State and two versus Big Sky foe Sacramento State).

The season begins with the Sheraton Four Points Wildcat Classic with matches against Saint Mary's, Arizona and Utah State. The next week, EWU takes on Colgate, Oral Roberts and host San Francisco at the PowerAde/Asics Classic. The ORU Golden Eagles went 26-9 last year and claimed the Mid-Continent Conference title.

The final pre-conference matches will take place amidst an outstanding volleyball atmosphere in Honolulu, as the Eagles will take on No. 10 Hawaii, 24th-ranked Santa Clara and Wichita State, a team which received votes in the preseason poll. The Rainbow Wahine led the country in attendance for the 13th-straight year in 2006 with an average crowd of 7,052 per contest.

"Our opponents this preseason will prepare us for the Big Sky season," Kydd said. "Last year's New York trip, where we played lower-quality opponents, did not prepare us (for Big Sky play) as much as this schedule will."

Big Sky Conference play begins with home matches on Sept. 13 and 15 versus Weber State and Idaho State, respectively. The Eagles will start and end its league season with 4-of-6 matches at home, while hitting the road for four consecutive contests in the middle of the Big Sky slate of contests.

Eastern concludes its regular season with home matches versus the top two teams from the 2006 final standings, as the Eagles take on second-place Portland State on Nov. 10 and defending champion Sacramento State six days later.

The Big Sky Championship will take place Nov. 23-24 and will be hosted by Sacramento State by virtue of its regular-season title in 2006. In a change from previous years, the quarterfinals and semifinals will each take place on the first date. As has been the case, the top six teams in the regular season will compete in the tournament with the winner taking the Big Sky's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

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