Eagles battle in Big Sky semis, but offensive prowess enables UNC to grab sixth-consecutive win over EWU
The Eastern Washington University volleyball team saw its season come to an end on Friday (Nov. 25) in the semifinals of the 2011 Big Sky Conference Championship, as top-seeded Northern Colorado prevailed in three competitive sets (29-27, 25-18, 25-18) at the Peter W. Stott Center in Portland, Ore.
The Eagles finish the 2011 season at 13-15 overall and 9-7 in the Big Sky. Eastern was making its 15th appearance in the postseason in the last 16 years, but for the second time in a row, Northern Colorado was the team to oust EWU from Big Sky tourney. The Bears also upset Eastern in the semifinals of the 2009 edition, which EWU hosted as the No. 2 seed. Northern Colorado has now won six-straight matches against the Eags.
"Our girls gave it their best effort tonight," said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "We certainly didn't lose this match because we weren't trying."
As is expected in the consequential postseason, neither team was willing to concede any easy points. The very first set on Friday was an absolute nail biter, featuring 12 ties and six lead changes.
"It's the most cliché line in volleyball, but you have to win a set to win the match," said Kydd. "We had talked a lot about putting Northern Colorado in a situation where they would start to have doubts. Winning the first set may have given us that edge."
The Bears jumped out to an early 8-4 lead and maintained that slight cushion through most of the set. But after winning a long, dramatic rally, Eastern gained some momentum and took its first lead at 20-19. With palpable tension and excitement in the gym, the Eagles and Bears fought tooth and nail for the next 17 points.
After EWU took to the lead, UNC fired back with two quick points, courtesy of Big Sky MVP Kelley Arnold, who finished with a match-high 16 kills on a .412 attack percentage. The Bears went on to earn set point at 25-24, but then missed their serve on set point, which knotted the score for the 10th time in the first frame.
The Eagles saved two more set points, and then earned one of their own after freshman Talia Fermantez and junior Cora Kellerman hammered back-to-back kills. On the ensuing play, Arnold came up with another of her 16 kills to give the Bears the crucial sideout. UNC's Breanna Williams found a hole in the Eagle defense on the next play, and then a tough serve on set point led to an Eagle attack error, giving the Bears a hard-fought 29-27 victory.
In the second set, Eastern had the early advantage, scoring eight of the first 13 points. But with a two-point edge at 12-10, the Eagles fell victim to a devastating Northern Colorado run. The Bears scored six-straight points before junior Shelby Puckett was able to earn a sideout with one of her team-high 14 kills. But UNC got the serve right back and continued to roll, scoring seven of the next 11 points.
Eastern saved two set points thanks to kills by Kellerman and Puckett, but a service error at 24-18 gave UNC the 2-0 lead heading into the break.
The third set was all UNC, as the Bears hit a .311 clip and notched two aces. Eastern did have its best offensive showing in the third set as well, with 15 kills and only five errors on 42 attempts, but it wasn't enough to get past the league's top offensive team.
Eastern finished with a .176 attack percentage, while UNC hit a .271 clip in the sweep. The Bears also held a slight 4-3 edge in total team blocks and had 69 digs, compared to 61 for EWU.
Puckett led Eastern with 14 kills on a .303 attack percentage. She was nearly flawless in the third set, recording seven kills with only one error in 11 attempts. Puckett also had nine digs and one block.
Kellerman notched her 10th double-double of the season with 10 kills and 10 digs, while junior setter Laney Brown also had registered a double-double of 18 assists and 10 pickups.
Seniors Chenoa Rossi-Childress and Lindsey Petroni both had solid performances in their final match in red and white. Rossi-Childress tallied five kills and three blocks for EWU, while Petroni posted a team-leading 15 digs.
"We definitely made strides this year and we have to build on it," said Kydd looking forward to next season. "We have a great freshmen class, and a lot of other talent coming back. Hopefully we can reload and return for more next season."