Eagles Battle, but Fall in Five to Montana in Big Sky Opener

Eastern tallies a season-high 72 kills and 97 digs, but can't outlast Montana

Senior Alysha Cook recorded a career-high 29 kills on an outstanding .431 hitting percentage, but the Eastern Washington University volleyball team could not outlast Montana, as it fell 3-2 (25-23, 27-25, 23-35, 20-25, 15-13) in its first match of the 2010 Big Sky Season.

After dropping the first two sets, Eastern fought back to take sets three and four and force a thrilling fifth-set tiebreaker. The Eagles had the upper hand midway through the set after sophomore Shelby Puckett and Cook hammered back-to-back kills to put the Eagles up 10-8. Montana then scored three consecutive points to take the 11-10 edge, which forced EWU head coach Miles Kydd to call a timeout. Eastern reclaimed a 12-11 lead after the break, as Cook put away two more kills. Unfortunately, Montana's Kortney James answered with a kill of her own, followed by a block by Paige Branstiter and Brittany Quick. With the score at 14-13, the Grizzlies served up match point and the Eagles were not able to put away their attack, dropping the rubber game by a 15-13 decision.

"The team competed really hard tonight," said Kydd. "I am really proud of them for not backing down after dropping those first two sets. They were battling out there and proved they can compete with any team in the conference. Montana was picked as the No. 1 team in the league going into this season, so I hope our girls realized after their performance tonight that we are a good team and have no reason not to play with confidence."

Cook led all hitters in the match, as she committed only four errors in her 51 attempts, while notching a career-high 29 kills. Her previous career-high was 19, which she recorded against Northern Colorado in 2007. Cook also contributed seven digs and seven blocks to Eastern's defensive effort. Redshirt-freshman Lindsay Niemeier had a career-high 57 assists, while junior Lindsey Petroni picked up 32 digs for the Eagles, which was just one pickup shy of her career-record.

In addition to Cook, senior Chenoa Coviare had an efficient offensive performance, as she hit at a .364 clip (11-3-22). Puckett and senior Jacque Brown both recorded double-doubles, as Puckett had 11 kills and 18 digs, and Brown chipped in 10 kills and 13 digs. Puckett also had a career-high four service aces in the match.

Eastern led the Grizzlies in almost every category, including kills, assists, digs and aces. However, Montana committed 13 less errors on offense, while also tallying 13.5 team blocks, compared to 10 blocks for the red and white.

"We are making too many unforced errors," said Kydd. "In our last two matches, we were ahead in every statistic, but beat ourselves with the errors. I'd also like to see the team be more aggressive in these tight situations. We can't wait for the opposition to make mistakes, we have to go out and earn our own points in order to win matches."

As a team, the Eagles recorded a .195 attack percentage, which included a season-high 72 kills on 200 attempts. Thirty-seven of those kills came between the third and fourth sets.

The Eagles will continue conference play on Saturday (Sept. 18) when they face Montana State at 6 p.m. pacific time in Bozeman, Mont. The Bobcats are also coming off a Big Sky loss, as they recently fell to Portland State, 3-1.

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