It's Time to Play for a Title

Nov. 19, 2007

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The Eastern Washington University volleyball team will head to the Big Sky Conference Championship this weekend as the third seed after finishing up an outstanding 2007 campaign on Friday (Nov. 16) with a tough 24-30, 30-28, 30-11, 30-17 loss to Sacramento State. The Eagles (14-14, 12-4 BSC) will take on No. 6 Northern Arizona (12-14, 7-9 BSC) at 11:30 a.m. on Friday (Nov. 23). The tournament will be hosted by Sacramento State, who earned the right by virtue of its regular-season title in 2006.

The No. 1 seed at this year's Championship will be Portland State, who earned that right after toppling Sacramento State 25-30, 30-27, 30-27, 30-28 on Saturday (Nov. 17). The Vikings and Hornets shared the regular-season title, while PSU earned the tiebreaker for the top seed (and the right to host the 2008 Championship) by virtue of a 5-4 games advantage in head-to-head meetings with Sacramento State.

That ensures that Eastern Washington and Sacramento State will not meet in this year's championship match. The rivals had met in the title tilt seven straight seasons; if they were to meet at this year's tournament, it would come in the semifinal round.

Eastern's quarterfinal opponent, Northern Arizona, clinched its berth in the tournament by sweeping Northern Colorado 30-26, 31-29, 30-21 on Saturday. That earned the Lumberjacks their first tournament berth in three years by a game over Montana.

"NAU has a one-person offense (in Kim Babcock, who leads the conference in kills per game with 5.55), but we have a big arsenal and are playing defense pretty well," Matlock said. "We're going into the match pretty confident, but we are not overlooking NAU by any means. We have to play one match at a time, one game at a time and one point at a time."

The Eagles and Northern Arizona last met in a Big Sky Tournament match on Nov. 16, 2001, when Eastern Washington outlasted the Lumberjacks 30-21, 30-22, 25-30, 25-30, 15-7 in a semifinal contest. That was the third straight year the teams would meet in the semifinal round, as EWU also claimed the 2000 match-up and NAU won in 1999 on its way to its most recent league title.

The Eagles took both meetings this year, sweeping in Flagstaff and pulling out a five-game thriller in Cheney. The game scores for that Sept. 29 contest were 20-30, 30-27, 30-23, 31-33, 15-13. The drama seen in that contest was incredible, as the teams were not separated by more than two points from the time that Eastern led game four 25-23 until the conclusion of the fifth stanza.

That would be Eastern's third win in a row in five games, marking the first such occurance for an EWU team since Sept. 21-28, 1990. The Eagles had not even played three straight five-game matches since Oct. 12-16, 1993.

The Eagles enter the tournament having won 8-of-9 contests, its best nine-match stretch since running off 10 straight wins from Oct. 22-Nov. 22, 2004.

Eastern Washington has now placed third or higher in the final league standings in 12 straight seasons. Only Sacramento State can say the same thing, as the Hornets have finished in the top three in all 12 seasons they have been in the league.

 

Live Stats, Audio and Video Coverage

Live stats and audio, free of charge, for every match of the 2007 Big Sky Conference Championship can be accessed at www.hornetsports.com/sports/wvball/2007BigSkyVolleyballTournament.asp. Further information, including ticket information and directions, can be located there as well. Live video can be accessed for a fee at www.bigskytv.org.

 

Big Sky Championship Alterations

There are 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. (Therefore, this year's No. 1 seed, Portland State, will host the 2008 Championship.)

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. Previously the tournament took place over a three-day span.

The NCAA Tournament begins the following weekend at 16 nonpredetermined campus sites throughout the country. The winner of the Big Sky Tournament will earn an automatic berth into the 64-team field.

The Selection Show, which announces the participants as well as the host sites, will begin at 5 p.m. on Sunday (Nov. 25) on ESPNU.

 

Comeback Kids

Eastern Washington is having an incredible season of comebacks, having rallied from a games deficit on eight occasions. That is the most enacted by an Eagle squad since the 1997 team (22-6) rallied from behind eight times. The school record of 10 (dating to Eastern's first season as an NCAA Division I member in 1983) was set by the 1989 squad, which went 25-7.

Coming from behind eight times in 14 wins (57 percent of the team's victories) is simply mind boggling. In comparison, over the past five years the Eagles have rallied from behind 19 times out of 114 wins (17 percent).

The first comeback win of the year was of the rare variety, as Eastern rallied from a 2-0 deficit in a 25-30, 23-30, 30-18, 30-19, 15-10 victory over Colgate on Aug. 31. That was EWU's first win after being down 2-0 since Oct. 5, 2002, when the Eagles topped Oregon State 30-32, 26-30, 30-27, 32-30, 15-10.

 

Going the Limit

Eastern Washington has gone an incredible 6-0 in five-game matches this year. To put that in perspective, the Eagles have not even played six contests to go the limit since 2001, when Eastern went 5-2 in five-gamers.

The last time EWU won at least six five-game contests was in 1990, when that team went 7-2 in those contests. The 1989 team, meanwhile, went 7-4 in five-gamers. That is the school record dating back to EWU's initial season as an NCAA Division I volleyball program in 1983.

The only team to ever go unbeaten in five-game contests was the 2002 team, which went 29-2 overall. That Eagle team went 3-0 in fifth games.

The Eagles also played (and won) three straight five-game matches this year, from Sept. 22-29. The victories came over Montana, Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona.

That last happened for EWU when the Eagles toppled Nevada, Northern Arizona and Boise State in three successive five gamers from Sept. 21-28, 1990.

Eastern had not even played in three straight matches to go the limit since Oct. 12-16, 1993, when EWU lost to Washington State before beating Idaho State and Boise State.

"It makes for good entertainment, doesn't it?" interim head coach Irene Matlock asked. "It's good to know we can win in five."

 

A Match for the Ages

The Eagles won an absolutely incredible match on Oct. 25, outlasting Montana 30-26, 35-37, 40-38, 22-30, 17-15 in a thrilling contest, one of the highest scoring in NCAA Division I history.

The Grizzlies came within three points of the national record for points in a match (since the advent of rally scoring in 2001), while Eastern was five away from the mark.

When Eastern Washington lost game two 37-35, it was the highest-scoring game that the team had played in since a 39-37, 28-30, 30-22, 30-18 win over Boise State on Oct. 21, 2004.

Then, about 40 minutes later, the Eagles surpassed even that by winning the third game 40-38. That is Eastern's highest-scoring game ever played.

The match was full of comebacks, as well. Montana was down 25-20 and 29-27 before rallying for its game two win. In the third game, Eastern rallied from a 27-22 deficit by going on a 7-1 run for a 29-28 lead and earning the first of eight game points.

Then, in game five, the Eagles were holding on tenuously by a thread, trailing 14-12. At that point, the night got crazier when libero Mandy Daniels earned a kill when her attempt to just get the ball over the net landed for an Eagle point. Then a pair of Hayley Hills kills earned Eastern its own match point at 15-14.

Following a Montana tally to tie the contest, Allison Reinstein earned EWU another match point when she put away a floater which was about to land on the top of the net. A UM attack error finally put an end to the three-hour marathon.

 

Record-Breaking Year for Daniels

Junior Mandy Daniels has already clinched one school record and is closing in on another in an incredible year for the libero.

She has 4.93 digs per game, which is going to break the previous school mark of 4.62, held by Andrea Verdoljak who posted that average in 2005.

Daniels' total dig total of 513 is just 27 off the school record of 540, also set by Verdoljak in her incredible 2005 campaign.

Daniels has had 20+ dig totals on 14 occasions so far this season. Her most incredible dig total came against Sacramento State on Friday (Nov. 16), when had 33 in a four-game match with the Hornets. Not only is that sum the most by an Eagle since Verdoljak had 34 on Oct. 11, 2005, but it is a school record for digs in a four-game match.

On Oct. 13, she tallied 24 digs in Eastern's match with Sacramento State, the highest total attained by an Eagle in a three-game match since Verdoljak had 24 on Oct. 27, 2005. That total is also tied for the most recorded by a Big Sky player in a three-game match this season.

The first weekend of Big Sky Conference play, she had two of the best performances in Eagle history, tallying 29 digs in each contest. To put that into perspective, only seven times in the 2002-06 seasons had any Eagle tallied 29 digs in a contest.

"Mandy Daniels has done a great job as our libero," interim head coach Irene Matlock said. "She has dug some seriously great balls and has really picked up our defense. It's a nice, secure feeling having Mandy on the floor. She certainly helps us out."

 

Hills Getting Some Major Elevation

Sophomore outside hitter Hayley Hills has had an outstanding season for the Eagles, as her 4.41 kills per game is not only the third-highest average among Big Sky Conference players this year, but would place her fourth in the EWU single-season record book.

Meanwhile, her total number of kills this year, 459, is nearing the top-five list for all-time Eastern players. Lizzy Mellor (2005) is fifth with 478, while Kim Exner sits fourth (484 in 1997) and third (492 in 1996).

She is also second on the Eagles in digs per game with 2.56, fourth in service aces per game with 0.21 and fifth in blocks per game with 0.43.

Hills not only earned Co-Big Sky Player of the Week accolades on Oct. 22, but she was also named to the all-tournament team at each of the three preconference tournaments that Eastern participated in. These included the Sheraton Four Points Wildcat Classic, the PowerAde/Asics Classic and the Waikiki Beach Marriott Volleyball Classic.

She has led the team in kills in 24-of-28 matches and posted 20+ kill totals in seven straight matches from Oct. 13-Nov. 3 and 11 overall in 2007.

Hills has also played very well in the back row, as she has contributed double-digit dig totals 13 times. She had 19 against Montana and Montana State on Oct. 25 and 27, respectively, to set career highs.

"Hayley is a dynamic player, a jumper, who has gotten the kills we have needed from the outside," interim head coach Irene Matlock said. "She also comes in with a combination in the middle, has done serve receiving/passing and is a good consistent server; she is an all-around player for us."

Her best kill output came against Idaho State on Sept. 15, when she had 30, just four off the school record (set at 34 by Kim Exner against Portland on Sept. 6, 1996).

Hills also had 25 kills over Northern Colorado on Sept. 29.

Her 20 kills against Sacramento State on Oct. 13 was the most recorded by an Eagle in a three-game match since Lizzy Mellor had 21 in a sweep of Gonzaga on Oct. 18, 2005. She also hit .340 (20-4-47) in that match.

 

Cook Named Big Sky Conference Co-POW

Freshman outside hitter Alysha Cook helped lead the Eagles to a three-game sweep of Portland State on Nov. 10. Combined with her efforts in a 3-0 non-conference victory over Boise State, she was rewarded for her efforts with Big Sky Conference Co-Player of the Week accolades.

For the week she averaged 4.17 kills and hit .333 (25-7-54). Cook also had 1.50 blocks per game. Against the Vikings, she had 15 kills, seven blocks and hit .353 (15-3-34). That block total is the fourth most in a match by an Eagle this year.

She has played well for Eastern Washington all season, as her 2.92 kills per game average is the second-highest on the team. She is also third on the squad in blocks per game with 0.74.

She set the team pace in kills against Gonzaga on Oct. 9 with 12, hitting .375 (12-3-24) in the process. In EWU's 3-2 win over Northern Colorado on Sept. 27, she led the team in putaways with 19.

Cook led the team in kills in Eastern's match with No. 16 Hawai'i, contributing nine in that contest. She also had eight versus Wichita State.

She hit .409 (10-1-22) in Eastern's match with Sacramento State on Oct. 13.

"When she hits, she hits really hard, so that's a plus for us," interim head coach Irene Matlock said.

Cook has posted double-digit kill totals 12 times so far this year, including in 7-of-8 and 9-of-11 matches.

 

Unstoppable Chenoa

Freshman middle blocker Chenoa Coviare had a simply amazing performance in Eastern Washington's incredible comeback 25-30, 23-30, 30-18, 30-19, 15-10 victory over Colgate on Aug. 31.

In that match, Coviare hit .750 (17-2-20), an extraordinary hitting percentage for a five-game match, and was literally perfect the final three games, hitting 1.000 (8-0-8) in those stanzas.

The hitting percentage was the highest recorded by an Eagle (with at least 12 kills) since Brittney Page hit .875 (15-1-16) in a 3-0 sweep of St. Francis (N.Y.) on Sept. 1, 2006.

It is also the second-highest hitting percentage recorded by an Eagle in at least five years and the second-highest posted by a Big Sky Conference player in 2007.

Coviare hit .526 (12-2-19) in Eastern's sweep of Northern Arizona on Nov. 1, the third-highest hitting percentage recorded by an Eagle in 2007. She then had 10 blocks in EWU's dramatic 3-2 win over Northern Colorado two days later, tied for the second-highest total earned by an Eagle this year.

In Eastern Washington's clutch 3-2 road win over Montana on Sept. 22, she also played well, tallying 14 kills and served at a high level, including serving up an ace to put Eastern up 14-12 in the fifth game.

"The ace at 14 was huge," interim head coach Irene Matlock said.

Coviare led the Eagles in kills in their match with Idaho, tallying 12.

She is also tops on the team in blocks per game with 1.05.

 

Sensational Setters

The Eagles have seen Amanda Yausie and Ashley Hamilton both see plenty of time in the setting position. After Yausie had most of the setting time the first part of the season, Hamilton has been Eastern's primary setter in its last several matches.

Hamilton posted 55 assists in Eastern Washington's 3-2 win over Northern Colorado on Nov. 3, the highest Eagle total since Yausie had 55 versus Montana State on Oct. 5, 2006. Hamilton also hit .455 (6-1-11) in that contest.

Yausie has recorded 50+ assist totals on three occasions in 2007, tallying 51 in three separate matches. She had that total in Eastern's dramatic 3-2 win over Northern Arizona on Sept. 29. She also had that sum in a 3-1 loss to Utah State on Aug. 25 and in a 3-2 win over Colgate on Aug. 31.

She set a personal best in hitting percentage in the Utah State contest at .571 (8-0-14) before shattering that mark on Sept. 22 against Montana by hitting at a .625 clip (6-1-8).

Yausie has 8.66 digs per game to place herself seventh in the Big Sky, while Hamilton's 7.94 would place her eighth if she had played in 75 percent of Eastern's games (she has seen action in 63 of 104 games or 61 percent).

Yausie has eight 40+ assist matches, while Hamilton has five.

 

Awesome Ally

Freshman Allison Reinstein has been a blocking force for the Eagles in 2007, as she is second on the team in that category with 0.93.

In Eastern's 3-2 win over Northern Colorado on Sept. 27, she had an incredible total of 11. That sum is the most attained by an Eagle since Keva Sonderen had 12 against Weber State on Nov. 9, 2002.

The 11 blocks are not only the most recorded by an Eagle this year, but is tied for the ninth-highest total tallied by a Big Sky player.

Reinstein then nearly met that number in Eastern's 3-0 sweep of Portland State on Nov. 10, as she had 10 in that contest.

She impressively had at least four blocks in six straight matches from Sept. 15-Oct. 2. For the season, Reinstein has posted 4+ blocks on 15 occasions.

 

Ponce Digs and Serves

Honolulu native Kristen Ponce has been a stabilizing force in the back row, as she has contributed 2.04 digs per game, the third-highest average on the team.

In addition, Ponce has been a serving force for the Eagles, as she has a team-leading 0.28 service aces per game. She also had five in Eastern's 3-0 sweep of Boise State on Nov. 8.

She played well in all three matches to take place in her home town of Honolulu, Hawaii, at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Volleyball Classic from Sept. 6-8. She contributed 10 digs in Eastern's match with No. 19 Santa Clara.

"Kristen did a great job in the back court for us in Hawai'i," interim head coach Irene Matlock said. "She served some aces for us and is a great topspin jumper."

 

Ridiculous Ross

Sophomore outside hitter Chelsea Ross had her best hitting performance of the season on Sept. 22, as she hit at a .406 clip (15-2-32) in Eastern Washington's dramatic 3-2 win at Montana. She also had an impressive outing against Portland State on Oct. 5, hitting .333 (6-2-12).

Ross' average of 2.40 kills per game is the third-highest on the team.

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.

Ross recorded double-digit kill totals nine times in 2007.

Unfortunately, she suffered a season-ending knee injury in Eastern's match against Montana on Oct. 25.

 

First Win on her Birthday

Eagle interim head coach Irene Matlock celebrated her birthday in a memorable manner on Aug. 31, as the Eagles were able to rally from 2-0 down to defeat Colgate, 25-30, 23-30, 30-18, 30-19, 15-10. That was also the first time that Eastern Washington has rallied from two games down since a 30-32, 26-30, 30-27, 32-30, 15-10 victory over Oregon State on Oct. 5, 2002.

Matlock came 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 amassed 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 took over for former head coach Wade Benson, who departed on July 2 to take a position at Auburn.

 

Let's Get This Party Started Early

Eastern Washington began the 2007 campaign with the earliest start date in school history, Aug. 24. The earliest pervious "opening day" for Eastern volleyball was Aug. 25, which happened last year as the Eagles began that season with 3-0 wins over Syracuse and Louisiana Tech.

 

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.

 

Where Will the Team Start the 2008 Season?

The Eastern Washington Eagles have now 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).

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