Eagles Prepare for First Two Road Tests of Big Sky Season

After a 2-0 start at home, Eagles head to the Montanas with goals of keeping undefeated record intact

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The Eastern Washington University volleyball hits the road this week for a pair of Big Sky matches in the Treasure State. Eastern takes on Montana State Friday (Sept. 23) at 6 p.m. Pacific time, and then hits Missoula on Saturday (Sept. 24) for another 6 p.m. match against the Montana Grizzlies.

The Eagles enter the weekend with a 6-6 overall record and perfect 2-0 mark in Big Sky action. Eastern was one of three teams in the conference to go undefeated in opening weekend, but that strong start is not about to fool anyone on the Eagle squad.

"It's obviously nice to win two matches to start the conference, but, as cliché as it sounds, those matches are behind us," said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "Our next two are the ones that are important. Yes, we're off to a good start, but it is a long season of 16 matches, so at 2-0 you can't start uncorking the champagne just yet."

It would seem that EWU might have the upper hand in its match against Montana State, as the Bobcats are 0-12 to start the 2011 campaign. But last year in Bozeman, MSU handed the Eagles a 3-1 loss, so Eastern is certainly prepared for another competitive battle.

"We can't really jump the gun too much based on other team's results," said Kydd. "Everything is different in the head-to-head matchup. If you watch Montana State's first two conference matches against Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado, there was one kind of blow-out set, but the others were very close. So, if we're going to sell Montana State short because of their record, we're doing them a disservice."

Montana State opened Big Sky play with back-to-back losses on the road at Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado, both of which were 3-0 decisions. The Bobcats returned four starters and seven other letterwinners from its 2010 squad that finished eighth in the league race.

After dropping that contest in Bozeman last season, Eastern did strike back with a 3-0 sweep of MSU in the matchup on Reese Court. Prior to 2010, EWU had swept the season series against the Bobcats for five-consecutive years. The Eagles lead the all-time series 43-20.

Eastern's second opponent on the weekend has also struggled as of late, which includes a 0-2 start to the Big Sky season. Montana is 3-7 on the year, and is currently in the midst of a five-match losing skid.

"Montana's record in the pre-conference season was about the same as ours," said Kydd. "Then they started out Big Sky on the road against two quality opponents. Montana is always a tough opponent and they're gym is always hard to play in, so we expect to be tested in both matches this weekend."

Although off to a slow start, Montana certainly has the potential for a strong season in the Big Sky. The Grizzlies returned five of their six starters who led the team to a third-place finish and a spot in the conference tournament a year ago. Montana did lose three-time All-Big Sky first-team selection Jaimie Thibeault, but the Griz welcomed back their starting setter and two All-Big Sky selections in outside hitter Amy Roberts and middle blocker Brittany Quick.

In the 2010 season, both meetings between EWU and UM were thrilling five-set affairs. After dropping the first two sets in both matches, Eastern managed to fight back and win sets three and four, forcing the ever-dramatic fifth set. In the first meeting in Missoula, the Eagles could not overcome the home-crowd influence and ended up falling, 3-2. But in the rematch in Cheney, Eastern found redemption and captured its own 3-2 victory.

Montana leads the all-time series with Eastern, 47-33, which includes a 22-11 advantage when playing in Missoula.

Eagle Volleyball News & Notes

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. The La Conner, Wash., native 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.

Stellar Statistics - Eastern Washington ranks among the top three Big Sky teams in five of seven statistical categories. The Eags are third in the league in hitting percentage (.195), kills (12.08/set), assists (11.35/set), blocks (2.43) and service aces (1.19/set). These numbers directly relate to the overall standings, as the Eagles currently own the third-best overall record in the Big Sky at 6-6. Eastern is also one of three teams to have started the league season with a perfect 2-0 record.

Eagles Excel at the Net - In 10 of its first 12 matches of the 2011 season, Eastern has out-blocked or had the exact same number of blocks as its opponent. Only once has EWU had less than eight total team blocks in a match. The Eagles have tallied double-digit blocks in six contests already this year. EWU is currently the No. 3 blocking team in the Big Sky, averaging 2.43 blocks per set, and ranks in the top 50 nationally.

Niemeier Doubles-Up - Sophomore setter Lindsay Niemeier (Spokane, Wash.) has registered a team and conference-leading six double-doubles. Niememer, and NAU's Kelli Dallmann, are the only two players in the Big Sky to have registered six double-doubles already this season. In Eastern's match against Southern Utah on Sept. 10, Niemeier dazzled with a season-high 42 assists and career-high 15 digs.

Freshmen Firepower - This season, Eastern has had three freshmen on the floor. 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 12 matches of the 2011 season, averaging 1.21 kills and a team-leading 1.10 blocks per set, which ranks second in the Big Sky Conference. Brown has tallied at least eight kills in the last four-consecutive outings, and has had five or more blocks in three of the last four matches. Her counterpart, Talia Fermantez (Honolulu, Hawaii), contributes 1.32 kills per set and 0.68 blocks. Fermantez has also come on strong in the last five matches, averaging 7.2 kills per match. The Eagles have also started a freshman on the outside in every match thus far in the season. Kelsey Julian (Kennewick, Wash.) averages 0.89 kills per set and 0.73 blocks. She posted a season-high seven kills and six blocks against UNLV on Sept. 10.

Five in a Row for Puckett - Junior Shelby Puckett (Latah, Wash.) has posted double-digit kills in the last five-consecutive matches - the longest current hitting streak in the Big Sky. She registered a season and career-high 22 against Boise State on Aug. 31, and in the last five outings, has averaged 14.8 per match. On the season, Puckett's 2.96 kills per set average ranks seventh in the conference.

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 12 matches thus far in the season. She has tallied double-digit digs in 9 of those 12 outings, including a career-high 29 against Idaho State on Sept. 17. She currently ranks seventh among defensive specialists in the Big Sky, averaging 3.65 digs per set. She also ranks among the top 250 in the nation.

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 - Through the first three weeks of the season, 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.

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 (La Conner, 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 (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.

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 119-20 home record during that time span, for an impressive winning percentage of 85.6 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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