Eagles Host Weber State and Idaho State in Big Sky Season Openers

With a chance to get to .500, Eastern looking forward to a little home-court advantage in conference debut

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After three competitive tournaments and one early-season home match, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team will put its experiences to the test when it opens the 2011 Big Sky Conference season this weekend with matches against Weber State and Idaho State. Eastern will host WSU on Friday (Sept. 16) at 7 p.m. and ISU on Saturday (Sept. 17) also at 7 p.m.

Eastern enters conference play with a 4-6 overall record. But with the odds in their favor, the Eagles will look to improve that mark to an even .500 after the weekend. Eastern topped both the Wildcats and Bengals in last year's matchup on Reese Court. The Eagles also beat ISU in Pocatello, but dropped a five-set heartbreaker to WSU in Ogden.

"Starting the conference season at home is definitely an advantage," said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "We have been on the road a lot, so it will be nice for the girls to sleep in their own beds. We have also cut practices down to just one-a-day, and with these matches coming before the start of school, our team should enjoy a peaceful, restful week as they prepare for Weber and Idaho State."

Weber State will be looking for its first win of the season when it visits Cheney on Friday. The Wildcats, under first-year head coach Tom Peterson, are 0-9 to start the 2011 campaign.

"Weber State struggled in the pre-conference season, but I don't think we should be fooled by that," said Kydd. "They have a new head coach and new energy, so we expect them to be a tough opponent. We split with them last year, and both matches were five-setters, so there's no way we should be taking them lightly."

Of Weber State's nine losses this season, six have been in straight sets. The other three were in five, which includes a 3-2 decision to Cal State Northridge - a team Eastern just recently played at the UNLV Invitational. The Eagles suffered the same fate, as they too fell in five sets to the Matadors.

Eastern leads the all-time series with WSU, 36-28. The Eagles and Wildcats split the series last year, with each team winning on its home court. The Wildcats returned three starters and five other letterwinners from the 2010 squad, but with five newcomers and a new coaching staff, critics were skeptical, as WSU was picked to finish last in this year's Big Sky Preseason Coaches' poll.

Contrary to WSU, Idaho State enters the weekend on a hot streak. In the most recent outing, the Bengals captured the UniWyo Cowgirl Classic title with three-straight wins over Georgia State, Illinois State and Wyoming. ISU setter Lori Mendenhall was named MVP of that tournament, which also led to a Big Sky Player of the Week selection.

"Idaho State is coming off a big tournament win, so we certainly expect them to be a quality opponent as well," said Kydd.

With the three wins in Laramie, Idaho State is now 5-5 in the 2011 season. The Bengals were one of four teams to advance to the Big Sky Conference tournament a year ago, but ISU returned just two starters from that 2010 squad that finished 9-7 in league play.

Idaho State was the only team Eastern swept during the 2010 season, both of which were 3-1 victories for EWU. The Eagles now have a 37-29 advantage over ISU in the all-time series.

Eagle Volleyball News & Notes

Niemeier Doubles-Up - Sophomore setter Lindsay Niemeier (Spokane, Wash.) has registered a team-leading five double-doubles this season. She is one of only four players in the Big Sky to have five or more double-doubles already in the young 2011 campaign. In Eastern's most recent match against Southern Utah, Niemeier dazzled with a season-high 42 assists and career-high 15 digs.

Watch Out for Eastern's Impenetrable Wall - In nine of its first 10 matches of the 2011 season, Eastern has either out-blocked or had the exact same number of blocks as its opponent. EWU has not had less than eight team blocks in any match this year, and in five of its first 10, the Eagles have tallied double-digit blocks. EWU is currently the No. 1 blocking team in the Big Sky, averaging 2.49 blocks per set, and ranks in the top 50 nationally.

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.

Big Sky's Leading Blocker Out with Injury - Prior to last week, senior Chenoa Rossi-Childress (Las Vegas, Nev.) was the No. 1 blocker in the Big Sky, averaging 1.38 blocks per set. She had tallied 36 blocks in Eastern's first seven matches of 2011, including a season-high eight against Santa Clara on Aug. 27. Unfortunately, Rossi-Childress was sidelined last week due to a nagging knee injury. She will also miss this week's conference openers against Weber State and Idaho State, with her status to be reevaluated after the weekend.

VanderWel's Senior Season Off to Blazing Start - After battling with injuries throughout much of her career, senior Amy VanderWel (Woodinville, Wash.) is finally at the top of her game. VanderWel has been the starting libero for EWU in all 10 matches thus far in the season. She has tallied double-digit digs in seven of those 10 outings, including a career-high 21 against UNLV on Sept. 10. She currently ranks among the top 10 defensive players in the Big Sky, averaging 3.31 digs per set.

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 season-high 12.5 total team blocks, to go along with a season-high 84 digs. Eastern was also sharp on the offensive side of the ball, as it recorded the best attack percentage of the season at .292 (66-17-168).

Puckett and Kellerman's Career Performances Power Eagles in Boise State Win - In Eastern's 2011 home opener versus Boise State, juniors Shelby Puckett (Latah, Wash.) and Cora Kellerman (Mount Vernon, Wash.) were nearly unstoppable on both the offensive and defensive ends. Both players recorded career-high kills, while Kellerman also posted a career-high in digs and attack percentage (of contests where she had at least 10 kills). Puckett rattled off 22 kills with only four errors in 45 attempts (.400), while Kellerman posted 21 kills on a career-high .320 clip. Kellerman also picked up 20 digs, which was 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 (Mount Vernon, 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.

Home Court Advantage - The Eastern Washington University volleyball team has placed in the top 40 nationally in average home attendance in 11 of the past 14 years. The high-water mark of 1,641 fans per contest, which ranked 12th nationally, came in 2003. The squad has earned a 117-20 home record during that time span, for an impressive winning percentage of 85.4 when playing at Reese Court.

Eagles Honored for Academic Success - 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 Eagle volleyball 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.

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, character and a team-first attitude during the spring season. The award is administered by EWU head strength and conditioning coach, Nate Brookreson. Wright, a 2009 graduate of Cascade High School in Leavenworth, Wash., played in 26 of Eastern's 27 matches during the 2010 campaign, including 15 starts as a redshirt-freshman. She averaged 1.37 kills and 0.52 blocks per set. She also registered three double-doubles throughout the year, all of which came in Big Sky Conference play. At the end of the volleyball season, Wright was selected as the Most Improved Player by her teammates. She is the third recipient of the Emtman Award, which was introduced in Miles Kydd's first season as head coach.

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