November 18, 2008

Hornets in Way of Title

Nov. 18, 2008

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Following a dominating sweep of Portland State on the road, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team moved into a first-place tie with the Vikings with one match to play. The Eagles would clinch at least a share of the Big Sky Conference's regular-season title and the No. 1 seed at the following week's Big Sky Championship with a win at Sacramento State at 7 p.m. on Friday (Nov. 21).

"It is definitely going to be a tough match, and there is a lot on the plate for us, but we will be just fine if we go down there and execute, serve well and play defense like we did last week," head coach Miles Kydd said. "Our goal is to finish .500 on the road (in the Big Sky), and we need to win this match to do so (to finish 4-4 in the league away from home)."

Eastern Washington (16-10, 11-4 BSC) controls its destiny by virtue of tiebreaker advantages over both Portland State (18-7, 11-4 BSC) and third-place Northern Colorado (16-8, 10-5 BSC).

The Eagles are 2-0 over the Vikings this year to earn that tiebreaker advantage, while Eastern outscored Northern Colorado 130-122 in head-to-head matches (the teams were 1-1 in head-to-head matches and 3-3 in head-to-head sets, the first two tiebreakers used by the Big Sky). If all three teams were to tie, the Eagles would hold that tiebreaker advantage with a 3-1 head-to-head record versus Portland State and Northern Colorado (UNC would be 2-2 and PSU would be 1-3 in those matches).

Both Eastern Washington and Portland State close out their seasons at Sacramento State. The Vikings play the Hornets at 7 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 22), while Northern Colorado hosts Northern Arizona at 6 p.m. Pacific Time on Saturday in its final regular-season contest of 2008.

The following week, the Eagles will play in a Big Sky semifinal at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 28 on the Portland State campus (the Vikings earned the right to host, as Portland State claimed the 2007 regular-season title - Eastern Washington would host the 2009 event if it possesses the No. 1 seed at this year's Championship). The league's championship match takes place at 7 p.m. the following night.

In its only match last week, Eastern Washington dominated Portland State on the road by 25-19, 25-21, 25-15 scores. In comparison, the only other teams to sweep the Vikings this year were Pacific-10 Conference members Oregon State and Washington.

The most impressive aspect of Eastern's win in the Rose City was the Eagles out-digging the Vikings 63-45. Portland State entered the week ranked 10th nationally among NCAA Division I teams in digs per set with 17.49 (the Vikings still rank 11th with 17.41). Mandy Daniels led the way with 24 digs, an especially impressive number considering the match went just three sets, while Jacque Brown had an outstanding performance herself with 17.

"We limited what they were able to do offensively with good serving and defense," Kydd said. "Mandy was really good; she sometimes made digs where I didn't know why she was even standing there. She was really reading the play well, getting into position. Jacque Brown played great defense, as well."

The Eastern-Sacramento State match may be viewed live for free on www.bigskytv.com, while the Hornets will also offer free live audio at www.kssu.com.

Hills Six Away from Joining Prestigious Club              
Hayley Hills enters Eastern Washington's match at Sacramento State on Friday (Nov. 21) just six kills shy of joining the 1,000-kill club, something only seven previous Eagles have done.

In fact, 18 kills would move the junior into sole possession of seventh place on the all-time Eagle list. Thirty-five places her in sixth, and 66 puts her fifth.

The outside hitter has performed at incredibly high levels this year, as she has posted five of the six 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).

The 30-kill mark did tie the school record for kills in a four-set match, which she set with 30 against the Bengals the year before, on Sept. 15, 2007.

Her season average of 4.49 kills per set not only leads all Big Sky players, but also ranks her 10th among NCAA Division I players. It is currently the fourth-highest average in Eagle history.

Hills' career average of 3.93 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 when the NCAA lowered the point totals needed to win a set from 30 to 25.

That career average also currently ranks 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.

She also has earned Big Sky Player of the Week accolades on three occasions this year - 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 contribute 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 then-first-place Portland State.

She became just the 18th Eagle in history to have 20+ kills and digs in the same match, the eighth to do so in a match just three or four sets long. The dig total is a career high.

"Her defense is starting to come along," Kydd said at the time. "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.

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. 4 spot on the EWU all-time career digs chart with 1,349. She became just the seventh Eagle in history to reach the 1,000-dig milestone.

Also, she possesses the 18th spot in Big Sky history and is just one from the 17th spot, currently held by Boise State's Rebecca Richards (1984-86), who had 1,350. She is also eight away from 16th-place Maureen Rafferty of Sacramento State, as she had 1,357 from 1996-99.

Compiling 30 in Eastern's 3-2 loss to No. 17 Colorado State on Aug. 30 pushed her career sum past 1,000 to 1,017. That match total is tied for the ninth-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 seventh-most by a Big Sky player this year. It is also tied for the 32nd-most by an NCAA Division I player in a four-set match this year.

The 31 digs also are the third-most ever recorded by an Eagle in a four-set match.

After a quality first weekend of play, Daniels 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 4.39 is ahead of Verdoljak's 3.95 (2002-04). That average is also on pace to place her fourth all-time in Big Sky history.

It is especially impressive 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, Daniels' career average was 4.32).

She currently ranks third in the Big Sky and 57th 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 9.63 assists per set, the fifth-highest average among Big Sky Conference players and 120th-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 fourth-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 .326 clip (96-23-224) 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 1.03 blocks per set, an average that ranks her fourth in the Big Sky Conference and 121st among NCAA Division I players.

Over the past 12 matches, she has contributed an impressive 1.26 blocks per set (54 blocks in 43 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."

Among Nation's Best in Attendance              
The Eastern Washington volleyball team currently ranks 38th among NCAA Division I teams in average attendance at 965. The Eagles are 14th among teams from non-BCS conferences.

Four home crowds this year 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).

Eastern Washington recorded a perfect 9-0 record in home contests in 2008.

The Eagles have ranked in the top 40 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 on Aug. 29 with Denver in Fort Collins, Colo., 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.

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