Eagles Prepare to Face Top-Seeded Northern Colorado in Big Sky Conference Semifinals

Heading in with an 0-6 record against other tournament teams, Eastern poised for a postseason upset


Upcoming Games/Coverage

2011 Big Sky Conference Championship
Semifinal #1 - (1) Northern Colorado vs. (4) Eastern Washington
Friday, Nov. 25 - 5:30 p.m.
Peter W. Stott Center - Portland, Ore.
Webcast: http://www.bigskytv.org
Live Stats: http://www.sidearmstats.com/portlandstate/wvball/
2011 Big Sky Championship Central: http://www.goviks.com/sports/2011/11/14/WVB_1114110355.aspx?path=wvball

The Eastern Washington University volleyball team has an intimidating task at hand, but the Eagles know as well as anyone what can happen in the postseason.

Eastern, seeded fourth in the 2011 Big Sky Conference tournament, will take on No. 1 seed Northern Colorado on Friday (Nov. 25) at 5:30 p.m., Pacific time at the Peter W. Stott Center in Portland, Ore.

The Eagles are 0-2 this season against Northern Colorado, and have dropped their last five meetings in a row to the Bears, which does include a heartbreaking upset in the semifinals of the 2009 conference tournament. But Eastern is an experienced team in the postseason, having made it to the Big Sky tournament in 15 of the last 16 years. The Eagles have reached the championship match in eight of the last 11 seasons, and won it all in 1989 and 2001.

"Northern Colorado is a good team - the best offensively in our conference," said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "They have one of the top players in Kelley Arnold, and a great freshman middle blocker in Andrea Spaustat. They also have a good setter and good libero. So, we're looking at a team with four of the top players in the Big Sky. No doubt it is going to be a challenge for us. But having not beaten any of these teams during the regular season, we basically have nowhere to go but up. As the fourth seed, we're not supposed to go there and do anything, but we know as well as anyone that the Big Sky Championship is a place where upsets happen."

In 2009, the Eagles hosted the BSC tourney as the No. 2 seed. They met No. 3 seed UNC in the semifinal round. The Eagles went in as the clear favorite, having swept the regular-season series with the Bears. But on that night in Cheney, Northern Colorado had the edge, winning in five sets with a narrow 15-13 victory in the fifth. Eastern has not won a match against UNC since the 2009 campaign.

This season, in the regular-season meetings against Northern Colorado, the Eagles have struggled to shut down UNC's high-powered offense. The Bears posted a .280 attack percentage in the two matches combined, with 110 kills and only 33 errors on 275 total attempts. Northern Colorado also had a 137-118 advantage in digs, and a 17-13 edge in total team blocks.

On the season, Eastern is a better blocking team than UNC, and averages significantly more service aces. Eastern will certainly need to exploit both areas in order to have success in Friday's semifinal.

The Eagles are led this season by a pair of junior outside hitters in Cora Kellerman and Shelby Puckett. Kellerman was twice selected as a Big Sky Player of the Week during the regular season, and currently ranks in the top five in the league in kills per set (3.21). She has tallied nine double-doubles on the year and has had four matches with 20+ kills. Puckett has registered 10 double-doubles this season, and is among the top eight in the conference in terms of kills (3.02) and points per set (3.51).

Eastern runs a 6-2 offense with setters Laney Brown and Lindsay Niemeier. Niemeier leads the Big Sky in double-doubles with 17 on the season. She also ranks second overall in service aces, averaging 0.31 per set. In league-only games, Niemeier has tallied 25 aces – the most for any player in the Big Sky during the conference season.

Should EWU beat UNC in the opening match of the tournament, the Eagles would face either No. 2 seed Portland State or No. 3 Sacramento State, both of which are teams that swept Eastern during the regular season. The Vikings and Hornets face off at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

Since 1986 - Eastern's first year in a conference tournament - the Eagles have earned a 17-15 record in the postseason matches. The Eagles are 0-1 against Northern Colorado, 3-1 against Portland State and 1-8 against Sac.

News & Notes

Back in the Postseason Picture  - After a one-year hiatus in 2010, Eastern has returned to the postseason picture. This weekend, Eastern will make its 15th appearance in the Big Sky Conference Championship in the last 16 years. Prior to 2010, Eastern had been in the semifinals for 14-conesutive years, and had reached the championship match in eight of the last 11 seasons. Eastern's overall record in the postseason tourney is 17-15.

Seniors Make the Most of Their Night - Although the Eagles were not able to get a win on Senior Night, two of Eastern's three seniors did set career highs in the narrow five-set loss to Sacramento State on Friday (Nov. 18). Senior Chenoa Rossi-Childress (Las Vegas, Nev.) led the Eagles offensively with a career-high 13 kills. She also added six blocks and two digs. Senior libero Lindsey Petroni (Spokane, Wash.) matched her career-high of 33 digs, which was the seventh 30-dig outing of her career - the most in school history. Senior Amy VanderWel, who was also honored on Friday, finished with three digs and one service aces.

Petroni Digs Her Way to School Record - In Eastern's match agaisnt Portland State on Nov. 12, senior libero Lindsey Petroni (Spokane, Wash.) tallied exactly 30 digs.  With those 30 pickups, Petroni set the EWU school record for the most 30-dig matches in a career at six. She extended that record to seven last Friday (Nov. 18) when she tallied 33 against Sac State. Four of the seven 30-dig outings have come in the 2011 season. In both regular-season matches against Montana, Petroni tallied 30 or more digs. In the meeting in Cheney on Oct. 28, she had exactly 30, while on the road in Missoula, she had 33, which is a career-high that she's matched three times in her tenure Petroni finished the Big Sky regular season ranked third overall in in league-only statistics with a 5.15 digs per set average.

Streaking Through the Season - The 2011 season has been a "streaky" one for the Eastern Washington University volleyball team. The Eagles traded wins and losses through the first six matches of the year, but since then, the team has witnessed a very distinct pattern of streaks. From Sept. 3-10, Eastern lost three matches in a row to non-conference opponents...then the Eags won their next five-consecutive outings, including four-straight to open the Big Sky season....EWU followed that streak with five-straight losses, and then turned it around again with five-consecutive wins. Following the

Niemeier Doubles-Up - Sophomore setter Lindsay Niemeier (Spokane, Wash.) has registered a conference-leading 17 double-doubles this season, which includes five of the last six-straight outings. At one point in the year, Niemeier had registered an assist/dig double-double in seven-consecutive matches. She tallied a season-high 42 assists against Southern Utah on Sept. 10, and tallied a season and career-high 20 digs against Idaho on Oct. 5.

Superior Serving - In the 2010 campaign, Eastern Washington ranked eighth in the conference in service aces. With a 0.96 aces per set average last season, the Eags were one of only two teams in the Big Sky to tally less than one ace per set. This year, however, Eastern has made serving a priority, and it has definitely paid off. The Eagles are currently third in the league with a 1.16 aces per set average. In addition, Eastern is tied for the very best single-match serving performance of the year among Big Sky teams with 11 aces against Montana State on Sept. 24. Individually, sophomore setter Lindsay Niemeier (Spokane, Wash.) is second in the conference in service aces, averaging 0.31 per set. That average also ranks among the top 175 in the nation. She is also tied for the top mark for aces in a single match with her five against Northern Colorado on Sept. 30. As a team, the Eagles have had five or more aces in 12 matches this year, which is two more than they had in the entire 2010 campaign.

Kellerman's Career Weekend Leads to Second POW Honor of Season - For the second time this year, outside hitter Cora Kellerman was tabbed as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week for matches played Oct. 24-30. The junior from La Conner, Wash., led Eastern in two wins against Montana and Montana State. In addition to helping EWU's quest for Big Sky tournament bid, the victories also kept alive two long-standing streaks, as EWU earned its 16th-straight win against the Grizzlies at Reese Court and the 11th-consecutive win at home versus MSU. Kellerman averaged 4.89 kills per set on a stellar .384 attack percentage, and had 28 digs (3.11/set) and four blocks. She scored 46 points for her team in the two matches combined, which was 18 more than the next closest person. In Eastern's thrilling five-set victory against Montana (Oct. 28), Kellerman posted a career-high 25 kills, and had only four errors on 63 total swings. She had five kills alone in the decisive fifth set, while hitting a .417 clip. She also had 11 digs for her sixth double-double of the season. Kellerman's 25 kills in that match is the third-best offensive performance turned in by any player in the Big Sky this season. The win against the Grizzlies also gave Eastern its first regular-season series sweep of UM since 2007. The following night against Montana State, Kellerman picked up right where she left off on Friday, tallying 19 kills, 17 digs and four blocks. She had just two errors on 36 total attempts for a career-best .472 attack percentage.

Eagles Dangerous in the Marathon Match - Although five-setters are not the ideal way to win a match, it seems to work for the 2011 Eagles. Eastern has played in 11 five-set matches already this season, and has prevailed in eight of the 11, which includes five in conference. In its match at Northern Arizona (Nov. 3), the Eagles set a new school record for five-set wins in a season with eight. The previous record was seven in the 1989 and 2007 seasons. Eastern also handed Northern Arizona its first five-set loss of the year, as the Lumberjacks were 6-0 in marathon matches coming into Thursday's contest.

Three-Deep - After being sidelined with a knee injury for the first three weeks of the Big Sky season, senior middle blocker Chenoa Rossi-Childress is back on the court, giving Eastern three dangerous threats in the middle. Besides its senior leader, the Eagles have a pair of talented freshmen in Amanda Brown and Talia Fermantez, who both gained invaluable experience while Rossi-Childress was on the bench. Brown averages 1.36 kills per set and 0.96 blocks, while Fermantez boasts a 1.59 kills per set average to go along with 0.86 blocks. And in the 59 sets she has played this season, Rossi-Childress has averaged 1.64 kills and 1.12 blocks.

Freshmen Phenoms - This season, Eastern has relied heavily on three talented freshmen. EWU has a pair of freshmen middle blockers who have made a major impact in their first year in red and white. Amanda Brown (Hacienda Heights, Calif.) has played in all 27 matches of the 2011 season, which includes 11 starts. She is averaging 1.36 kills and a team-leading 0.96 blocks per set. She has posted double-digit kills in four matches, including a career-high 12 at Montana on Sept. 24. Her counterpart on the court, freshman Talia Fermantez (Honolulu, Hawaii), contributes 1.59 kills per set on a .268 attack percentage, and 0.86 blocks. Fermantez has been especially strong in conference play, averaging 1.75 kills and 0.94 blocks per set. She had a career night against Montana State (Oct. 29), as she posted 13 kills on a .462 percentage and nine blocks. Besides its two freshmen middles, the Eagles have also started a rookie on the outside in 26 of the 27 matches this season. Kelsey Julian (Kennewick, Wash.) averages 0.94 kills per set and 0.64 blocks. She has twice had a career-high seven kills against UNLV (Sept. 10) and Montana (Oct. 28), and has twice posted a career-high of eight blocks against Washington State (Aug. 27) at Northern Arizona (Nov. 3).

Nine In a Row for No. 7 - Junior Shelby Puckett (Latah, Wash), who wears #7 for the Eagles, had a nine-consecutive double-digit kill matches from Sept. 9 - Oct. 1. She has tallied double-digit kills in 18 of 27 matches this season, including a season and career-high 22 against Boise State on Aug. 31. On the year, Puckett's 2.96 kills per set average ranks seventh in the conference. She also averages 0.69 blocks and 0.24 aces per set, for a points per set average of 3.54 - which is sixth overall in the conference.

Career-Night for Wright - Sophomore Ashley Wright (Leavenworth, Wash.) has had two career outings in the 2011 campaign. Against Montana State on Sept. 23, she posted a then-career-high 14 kills on .480 hitting, and had a career-high four service aces to lead Eastern to a thrilling five-set victory over the Bobcats. Wright also had six digs and one block in the match. Against Northern Arizona on Nov. 3, Wright topped her career-high kills mark with 16 against the Lumberjacks. She hit a .300 clip in that match and had four digs and three blocks to help EWU to a crucial 3-2 win on the road.

Kellerman Lays Claim to Big Sky POW - After helping Eastern capture back-to-back victories at home against Weber State and Idaho State, outside hitter Cora Kellerman (La Conner, Wash.) was selected as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week. It was the first POW award of Kellerman's career and the first student-athlete from Eastern to be honored in the 2011-12 campaign. In the two matches played over the weekend, Kellerman averaged 3.75 kills per set on a stellar .310 attack percentage. She also averaged 2.00 digs per set and posted a flawless serve percentage with zero service errors on 32 total attempts. Kellerman scored a team-high 33 points for the Eagles in the two matches combined. In Eastern's thrilling five-set victory over Idaho State on Saturday (Sept. 17), Kellerman registered a game-high 18 kills. But even more impressive than the total number was her efficiency in the marathon match, as she had zero errors on 44 total attack attempts. In the 3-0 sweep of Weber State the night before, Kellerman had 12 kills, seven digs and one solo block.

Puckett Honored for Performance in Vegas - Junior Shelby Puckett (Latah, Wash.) became the third Eagle to be honored on an All-Tournament team this season, as she was selected to the UNLV Invitational All-Tourney team. Puckett averaged 3.29 kills and 1.57 digs per set, while also tallying 10 total blocks in Eastern's three matches in Las Vegas, Nev. She also had a team-high five service aces, including three pivotal ones in EWU's dramatic five-set victory over future Big Sky member Southern Utah. She had 17 kills, five digs and three blocks in that match as well. She averaged 4.00 points per set for EWU – the most of any player on the team.

Rossi-Childress Named to Wildcat Classic All-Tourney Team - Senior Chenoa Rossi-Childress (Las Vegas, Nev.) was one of six players named to the Wildcat Classic All-Tournament Team, held Sept. 2-3 in Tucson, Ariz. In the three matches played in Tucson, Ross-Childress tallied 17 kills on a team-high .275 attack percentage. She also led Eastern's blocking efforts with 11 total. She scored 22.5 points for EWU during the weekend.

Eagles Prevail in Early Home Opener - Not since the 2004 season had Eastern played a home match at Reese Court prior to the start of the Big Sky Conference season. This year, the Eagles had the privilege of hosting an early-season match in Cheney, and that little bit of home-court advantage certainly helped the Eags pull through in the clutch. In the 2011 home opener on Aug. 31, the Eagles outlasted Boise State in five exciting sets. The Eags recorded a then-season-high 12.5 total team blocks, to go along with another then-season-high 84 digs. Eastern was also sharp on the offensive side of the ball, as it recorded the second best attack percentage of the season at .292 (66-17-168). Junior Shelby Puckett posted a career-high 22 kills with only four errors in 45 attempts (.400), while Kellerman had 21 kills and a career-high 20 digs, which as the first time in her career the La Conner, Wash., native had 20 or more tallies in two different statistical categories.

Kellerman Earns Eastern's First All-Tourney Honor of 2011 - After leading EWU with 34 total kills and 31 digs in Eastern's opening weekend, junior captain Cora Kellerman (La Conner, Wash.) was named to the 2011 Seattle University Fall Volley All-Tournament Team. Kellerman averaged 3.09 kills per set in the three matches played in Seattle. She led the team to a spectacular five-set victory over rival Washington State with a then-career-high 20 kills and 17 digs. Six of her 20 kills came in the decisive fifth set. Kellerman also recorded a .957 serve percentage, as she served 47 times in the tournament with only two errors.

Smart Cookies - For the second year in a row, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team earned the AVCA Team Academic Award for its superior work in the classroom. To be eligible for the award, teams must maintain at least a 3.00 grade point average during the academic year. With a team GPA of 3.31, the Eagles were one of 92 Division I programs honored for the 2010-11 year. Eastern was also recognized by the Big Sky Conference, as the team tied for the highest GPA of any squad, men's or women's, in the Big Sky. In both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, the Eagles had 11 members earn BSC All-Academic honors, which was the most for any volleyball squad in the conference both years. The volleyball team also has five members in the EWU honors program, which is the most athletes from any of Eastern's 14 varsity sports. Seven volleyball players boast a cumulative GPA above 3.50, including six of seven starters this season.

Wright Lays Claim to 2011 Emtman Award - Sophomore Ashley Wright (Leavenworth, Wash.) was selected as the 2011 recipient of the Emtman award - an honor bestowed to one volleyball student-athlete who exhibits a strong work ethic, perseverance and a team-first attitude during the spring season. The award is administered by EWU head strength and conditioning coach, Nate Brookreson. She is the third recipient of the Emtman Award, which was introduced in Miles Kydd's first season as head coach. Junior Shelby Puckett received the honor in 2010, while former Eagle Jacque Brown was the 2009 inaugural award winner.

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