Spring Season Underway for EWU Volleyball

Coming off initial spring tourney in Tri-Cities, Eastern hosts three schools this Saturday at Reese Court, including Big Sky rival Montana State

The Eastern Washington University volleyball team has officially begun its preparations for next season.

Now that spring quarter at EWU is in full swing, the Eagles are back on the court for six weeks of spring training, which is highlighted by three competitive tournaments and a friendly scrimmage against Idaho on April 30 at 11 a.m. before the 30th Annual Orland Killin Dinner, Dance and Auction.

The Eagles returned from their first spring tourney in the Tri-Cities on April 2 with wins over Seattle Pacific and Central Washington, and a narrow loss to Portland.

Eastern will have the privilege of hosting its next spring event this Saturday (April 9) at Reese Court. The Eagles will welcome teams from Spokane Falls Community College, Idaho and Montana State. Action is scheduled to get underway at 9 a.m.

Eastern has ten healthy players to work with this weekend, including three hitters who were not on the court much in 2010.

"Obviously the seniors are gone, so we really focus on developing the players that are left," said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "The wins and losses in the spring tournaments are not really important. Our goal is to work on areas we struggled with in the fall, and to just get certain players on the court competing."

Senior to be Chenoa Rossi-Childress, junior Cora Kellerman and freshman Britta Forsythe will all be important parts of EWU's offense in 2011, but all three saw little or no playing time last year for a variety of reasons.

Forsythe utilized her redshirt season in 2010, as did Kellerman due to unforeseen health issues. Rossi-Childress was eligible, but saw limited playing time in her first year with the Eagles, as she was third in the rotation behind two senior middle blockers.  

All three players were able to get back into competitive play at the Tri-Cities tourney last weekend.

"Both Britta and Chenoa had a good day in the middle," complimented Kydd. "They were encouraged by their connection with the setters and in their ability to pick up some blocks. They both felt like they had an impact on the game. That type of encouragement is as important as anything else at this point in the year."

"It is also great for us to have Cora back on the court," added Kydd. "She is our team captain this year, and is looked up to by the rest of the team, not only because of her situation last year, but because of who she is and how she handles herself."

Kellerman endured three heart surgeries during the 2010 season to try and correct a rare case of a heart condition called atrioventricular reentrant tachycardia. The final surgery, performed in December by a specialist from the University of Pennsylvania, was a success.

"Cora is an incredible athlete and person," said Kydd. "She is earnest and determined to do well, but the reality is, she hasn't played in a real, competitive volleyball match in over a year. It will just take some time for her to remember how she used to play. But I have no doubt she will be fine."

In addition to Forsythe, Kellerman and Rossi-Childress, Eastern will have outside hitters Shelby Puckett and Ashley Wright in tow this spring. Puckett, a junior from Latah, Wash., earned All-Big Sky honorable mention accolades as a sophomore in 2010, after averaging 2.59 kills per set in conference play, which included 11 matches in double digits.

Wright was named the Most Improved Player by her teammates following her freshman campaign. She played in 26 of Eastern's 27 matches, including 15 starts. She averaged 1.37 kills per set and 0.52 blocks.

Defensively, the Eagles will get help from seniors Lindsey Petroni and Amy VanderWel, as well as sophomore Tyler Calles. Eastern's fourth defensive specialist, Celeste Crosby, will miss most of the spring season due to injury.

Running the offense for EWU will be the young duo of junior Laney Brown and sophomore Lindsay Niemeier, who split the setting duties last year in Eastern's 6-2 offense.

"Laney did a very good job in the games in the Tri-Cities," said Kydd. "We can see both our setters are continuing to improve, especially in their ability to work in sync with the hitters."

Kydd felt his offense was a major factor in Eastern's rocky 2010 season, in which the team finished 9-18 overall and missed a bid to the Big Sky Conference tournament for the first time in 14 years.

"Our offense last year was simply not good enough," said Kydd. "It was a combination of everything from passing to setting to hitting. That is our main focus right now – working out those kinks and finding a way to execute consistently."

Although only two weeks into spring ball, Eastern will put that work to the test when it takes on three different teams Saturday at Reese Court. The Eagles will play SFCC at 9 a.m., Montana State at 10:30 and Idaho at 1.   

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