Nov. 4, 2008
The Eastern Washington University volleyball team wraps up its 2008 home schedule this weekend with a Thursday match (Nov. 6) versus Northern Arizona and a Saturday Senior Night contest (Nov. 8) against first-place Northern Colorado. Both matches begin at 7 p.m.
The Eagles (13-10, 8-4 Big Sky Conference), who have won 7-of-8 contests, split on the road over the weekend. Eastern Washington lost to Montana 25-21, 25-23, 25-22 on Thursday (Oct. 30) before rallying for a 19-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-9 victory over Montana State two days later.
"We started out poorly at Montana, and they gained a lot of confidence throughout the match," head coach Miles Kydd said. "Then the match against Montana State started out the same way, but we grabbed an early lead in the second set and relaxed and, as the night went on, asserted ourselves."
Northern Arizona had an impressive 8-1 run through the non-conference portion of the schedule, but has had a little rougher go of it during Big Sky play. The Lumberjacks are currently 13-7, 5-6 in Big Sky play and tied for sixth place, a precarious spot to be in as the top six teams advance to the Big Sky Championship.
Northern Colorado has had a remarkable season so far, as the Bears sit atop the Big Sky standings with a 9-2 league record. UNC, who is 15-5 overall, finished in fifth place its first two years in the league. The team enters its Thursday match at Portland State riding a five-match winning streak.
"Northern Colorado is obviously in first place and, if we want any chance to finish in the top two (and secure a bye into the Big Sky semifinals), we need to close out our home season with two more wins," Kydd said. "Northern Arizona started out really well this season and is still right there, but they have not been as successful lately."
Saturday's match with Northern Colorado will be the final one at home for Eastern's two seniors: Chelsea Ross and Mandy Daniels.
Ross has played well for the Eagles throughout her time in an Eastern uniform, but the most memorable moment would have to be when she hit .692 (9-0-13) in the 2006 Big Sky semifinals, a 3-0 sweep of Portland State.
"Ross is a fifth-year senior who has been plagued by injuries," Kydd said. "Unfortunately her knees would not cooperate with her aspirations, but she's been a steady, key, team player, and I am going to miss her leadership and team-focused center."
Daniels has been one of the best liberos in Eastern Washington and Big Sky history. She currently has 1,285 career digs, just 13 shy of fourth in all-time Eagle history and 18 short of entering the Big Sky's all-time top-20 list. She was named the league's Libero of the Year in 2007.
"Mandy is obviously one of the best liberos we have ever had at Eastern," Kydd said. "She is also one of the top passers and defenders in our conference. It is going to be a big void for us next year to find somebody to do all the things Mandy does - we're probably going to have to do it by committee."
Hills Hits 30 Kills, Nears 1,000 Putaways
Hayley Hills has performed at an incredibly high level this year, as she has posted the five highest kill totals in the Big Sky Conference so far in 2008.
Her 30 kills in a 3-1 win over Idaho State on Oct. 23 is the most tallied by any NCAA Division I player in a four-set match so far in 2008. It also was just four shy of the Eastern Washington school record (34, held by Kim Exner and achieved against Portland on Sept. 6, 1996).
In her career, Hills has tallied 953 kills and looks to become just the eighth Eagle in history to reach the 1,000-kill milestone.
This season, she has earned Big Sky Conference Player of the Week accolades on three occasions - Oct. 25, Oct. 13 and Sept. 29 - to become the first Eagle to earn the award three times in the same season since Janelle Ruen did so in 2002.
The third occurrence saw her average 5.73 kills per set, hit .310 (63-18-145) and contributed 2.55 digs per set, second on the team in that category behind libero Mandy Daniels. She was also named a Top Performer on a national level by CVU.com for her performances that week.
The second time she earned the POW award, Hills had a relatively rare 20-20 night in the week's only match, compiling 20 kills and 21 digs in a 3-1 defeat of first-place Portland State. The dig total is a career high for the junior outside hitter.
"Her defense is starting to come along," head coach Miles Kydd said. "We have worked with her on staying engaged on defense, and she's starting to do that better."
The first time, she hit .431 (41-10-72) and had 5.86 kills and 3.14 digs per set in matches with Montana State and Montana.
The first weekend of the season, Hills earned mention to the All-Tournament team at the Hilton Classic. She averaged 3.36 kills per set in Eastern's three contests that week.
Hills then moved her impressive streak of being named to All-Tournament teams to five, dating to 2007, after she attained accolades at the Idaho Volleyball Classic on Sept. 6.
Her season average of 4.53 kills per set not only leads all Big Sky players, but also ranks her 10th among all NCAA Division I players.
Hills' career average of 3.92 kills per set currently places her second in Eagle history in that category. Incredibly, she has increased her career average from 3.59 entering the season after the NCAA lowered the point totals needed to win a set from 30 to 25 prior to the commencement of the 2008 campaign.
That career average also currently places her ninth all-time in Big Sky history.
"We are not going to win if just Hayley is playing well, and we need to keep contributions from other players, but there is no doubt Hayley is playing at a high level," Kydd said.
Daniels Enters Top-Five List
Senior libero Mandy Daniels hit and surpassed the 1,000-dig mark the first week of the season and is now in the No. 5 spot on the EWU all-time career digs chart with 1,285. She became just the seventh Eagle in history to reach the 1,000-dig milestone.
She is, however, ready to move into the fourth spot, currently held by Janelle Ruen, who had 1,298 from 1999-02. Also, the 20th spot in Big Sky history is just ahead of that at 1,303; that slot is currently possessed by Idaho State's Felice Yocopis, who played for the Bengals from 2002-05.
Compiling 30 in Eastern's 3-2 loss to No. 17 Colorado State on Aug. 30 pushed her career total past 1,000 to 1,017. That match total is tied for the eighth-highest by any Big Sky Conference player in 2008 and was the most by an Eagle since she had 33 against Sacramento State on Nov. 16, 2007.
She then surpassed that dig total when she had 31 in EWU's 3-1 win over Montana on Sept. 27. That sum is tied for the sixth-most by a Big Sky player this year. It is also tied for the 25th-most by an NCAA Division I player in a four-set match this year.
After a quality first weekend of play, she earned mention to the Hilton Classic's All-Tournament team. That week, she averaged 5.27 digs per set.
Daniels is on pace to set the school record for career digs per set, as her current average of 4.33 is ahead of Verdoljak's 3.95 (2002-04). That average is also on pace to place her fifth all-time in Big Sky history.
It is especially incredible that she has actually improved her digs per set average after the NCAA lowered the point totals needed to win a set from 30 to 25 prior to the 2008 season (entering 2008, her career average was 4.32).
She currently ranks fifth in the Big Sky and 75th among 2008 NCAA Division I players in digs per set.
Ashley Assists Anyone and Everyone
Setter Ashley Hamilton has had an impressive season setting up Eastern hitters for kills. So far in 2008, she is averaging 9.64 assists per set, the fifth-highest average among Big Sky Conference players and 111th-best among all NCAA Division I players.
She also earned All-Idaho Volleyball Classic honors the second week of the season. For the weekend's three matches, she averaged 11.00 assists per set and contributed 19 digs, seven kills, six blocks and three service aces.
On Sept. 18, in a 3-2 road win over Weber State, she had 59 assists, the third-highest total by any Big Sky Conference player so far in 2008.
Then, versus Montana State and Montana on Sept. 25 and 27, respectively, she not only contributed 11.14 assists per set, but was also an intimidating attacking force herself, as she hit at a .480 clip (14-2-25). Hamilton is hitting at a .313 clip (84-21-201) this year.
"Her attack is a big deal for us, because it really messes with the other team," head coach Miles Kydd said. "If you don't dedicate a blocker to her, you're in trouble, but if you do, she sets another hitter and you're in trouble again."
Chenoa Shoots Into Block Rankings
Chenoa Coviare has been an intimidating presence at the net this year, as evidenced by her 0.99 blocks per set, an average that ranks her fourth in the Big Sky Conference and 152nd among NCAA Division I players.
Over the past nine matches, she has contributed an impressive 1.21 blocks per set (40 blocks in 33 sets).
"(Montana's) Jamie Thibeault is one of the best middles in the conference, and Chenoa was swing-for-swing with her," head coach Miles Kydd said. "She played an outstanding match on Saturday (Sept. 27), and if she continues to play at that high level, we'll be fine."
How Close Can it Get?
The top of the Big Sky Conference standings appears to lead towards another three-horse race for the regular-season crown (and, with it, the right to host the 2009 Big Sky Championship).
Northern Colorado is setting the pace in the conference with a 9-2 league mark, 15-5 overall. The Bears had finished in fifth place their first two seasons in the league. Eastern takes on UNC in its final home match of the season on Saturday (Nov. 8).
Defending regular-season champion and 2008 Championship host Portland State is just behind with a 9-3 record, 16-6 overall.
The Eagles are right in the thick of the race in third with an 8-4 mark, 13-10 overall.
Meanwhile, six-time defending Big Sky champion Sacramento State is very much looking to break into the top three, as the Hornets are 6-4 in Big Sky contests, 8-17 overall.
Montana is in fifth at 6-6, while Northern Arizona and Weber State are tied for sixth with 5-6 records. The Eagles play host to NAU on Thursday (Nov. 6).
Six teams advance to the Big Sky Championship with the top two earning byes into the semifinals. The event takes place from Nov. 28-29 in Portland, Ore.
Among Nation's Best in Attendance
The Eastern Washington volleyball team currently ranks 35th among NCAA Division I teams in average attendance at 1,004. The Eagles are 14th among teams from non-BCS conferences.
Four home crowds this year have surpassed the 1,000 mark with the high mark coming in the home opener on Sept. 25, a 3-0 win over Montana State (1,282).
The Eagles have ranked in the top 30 in attendance in 10 of the past 11 years.
Get Off! Get Off!
Eastern Washington threw a pair of monkeys off its back within a week in mid-October.
The Eagles first beat local rival Gonzaga 25-14, 25-20, 15-25, 24-26, 15-11 on Oct. 13 to snap a two-match, two-year losing streak to the Bulldogs and earn their first win over GU since a 3-0 victory on Oct. 18, 2005.
Then, five days later, EWU earned its first win over six-time defending Big Sky Conference champion Sacramento State 25-17, 16-25, 22-25, 27-25, 15-12, since a 3-1 victory on Nov. 4, 2004. That ended a run of 10 straight wins by the Hornets versus Eastern.
However, when head coach Miles Kydd was told about those streaks, he stated that his focus was, and is, not on the past.
"I didn't know about those (streaks)," Kydd said. "For us, Sacramento State is another league match, one we feel we should win. Gonzaga is a regional rival, so that is an important match just for the sake we want to be considered the top team in the Inland Northwest." (in head-to-head matches between EWU, Gonzaga, Washington State and Idaho in 2008, the Eagles and Idaho went 2-1, while the Bulldogs and Cougars finished 1-2).
Trio Earns All-Tournament Honors
A trio of Eagles has earned All-Tournament honors in 2008.
At the Idaho Volleyball Classic, played from Sept. 5-6, Ashley Hamilton and Hayley Hills earned mention to the team.
The first tournament of the year, the Hilton Classic from Aug. 29-30, saw both Mandy Daniels and Hills attain All-Tournament accolades.
Holding the `Backs to Negative Numbers
On Aug. 30, Eastern Washington dominated Arkansas in a 25-23, 25-12, 25-14 win, holding the Razorbacks to a -.085 hitting percentage. That marked the first time EWU has held an opponent to a negative hitting percentage since a 3-0 win over St. Francis (N.Y.) on Sept. 1, 2006.
Kydd Takes over Reigns
The 2008 Eastern Washington Eagles are being led by first-year head coach Miles Kydd.
Kydd, however, is no stranger to the program, as he spent the past four years as the team's assistant coach.
He also brings to the position several years of experience at the international level as well as at the collegiate level from his native Canada.
Joining him on the coaching staff is Lisa Westlake, a highly-respected mind in the sport of volleyball, as well as Wes Walker, who has worked with the Eagles the past couple years as a volunteer assistant coach.
New NCAA Rules for 2008
The term "game" has been changed to "set." In other words, a team needs to win three sets to claim a match. Volleyball throughout the world has referred to "sets" rather than "games" for the past several years.
The number of points required to win sets 1-4 is now 25. From 2001-07, it was 30. Rally scoring remains in effect; prior to 2001, the serving team was the only one allowed to tally a point on any single rally. The fifth set will also remain rally scoring, played to 15 points. All sets must still be won by at least two points.
This rule change was enacted to increase focus and excitement levels, from both players and spectators, throughout each set. International and Olympic volleyball has used 25-point sets since moving to the rally-scoring system in 1999.
As a result, the number of substitutions allowed for each team per set has been decreased from 15 to 12.
Where Will the Team Start 2009?
With its season-opening contest with Denver on Aug. 29, the Eastern Washington Eagles will have now opened the past 10 seasons (1999-2008) in 10 different districts/states (in chronological order from 1999: District of Columbia, Michigan, Maine, Florida, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Kansas, Arizona and Colorado).
Eagles Place Fifth in Preseason Poll
The Eastern Washington Eagles were selected fourth in the Big Sky Conference's preseason poll. Portland State placed first and was followed, in order, by Sacramento State, Weber State, EWU, Northern Colorado, Montana, Northern Arizona, Idaho State and Montana State.