In order to maintain the top spot in conference, Eastern will have to prove itself this weekend against undefeated Northern Arizona and defending Big Sky Champion Northern Colorado
The Eastern Washington University volleyball team was picked to finish sixth in this year's Big Sky Preseason Coaches' Poll, but now, two weeks into the 2011 Big Sky season, the Eagles find themselves atop the conference standings.
Eastern is off to a perfect 4-0 start in league play, but what awaits the Eags this weekend at Reese Court is a stern test to that flawless record.
Eastern (8-6) will host the defending Big Sky regular-season champ Northern Colorado on Friday (Sept. 30) at 7 p.m. The Eagles will then welcome on Saturday (Oct. 1) an undefeated Northern Arizona team that has recently come on the scene as a real force to be reckoned with in the Big Sky. The Lumberjacks are one of three teams in the entire nation to still have an undefeated record in the 2011 campaign. After finishing seventh in the Big Sky last season, NAU has started the new year on an incredible hot streak at 12-0.
The Eagles are also off to more positive start in 2011, as the team has, at this point, already amassed as many wins as it did throughout the entire 2010 season.
"I think with the mix we have of some talented youth and returning players who went through some tough times last year, we were determined to do better this season," said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "We are excited with the start to our conference season, but we can't get too ahead of ourselves. We are only a quarter of the way through the schedule, and we have tough task ahead with Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona."
The Bears come in with an 8-5 overall record and 2-1 mark in Big Sky Conference action. UNC returned five starters from its 2010 squad that captured the Big Sky regular-season title with a 14-2 league record. But the one player lost after last year was a big one in All-Big Sky First-Team selection Ashley Lichtenberg.
Northern Colorado opened its conference season with back-to-back victories at home against Montana and Montana State, both of which were 3-0 sweeps. Of UNC's eight wins so far this year, six have been 3-0 decisions. But last weekend, in its first road test of the league season, the Bears actually dropped a three-setter to Sacramento State.
In the all-time series with Eastern, Northern Colorado leads by the slightest 7-6 margin. The Bears won both meetings in 2010, but the match in Cheney was a dramatic five-set affair.
Pending a win over the Vikings on Friday in Portland, the Lumberjacks will come to Cheney without a single blemish on its record. Eastern will be eager to change that with the help of home-court advantage.
The Lumberjacks returned four starters and its primary libero from the 2010 season. Among those returners is junior setter Kelli Dallmann, who was an All-Big Sky second-team selection last year and has already earned two Big Sky Player of the Week honors this season. NAU also welcomed back a talented pair of outside hitters in Lexi Sullivan and Kobi Christensen, who are averaging 2.93 and 3.66 kills per set, respectively.
Like UNC, Northern Arizona also hosted the Montana schools in first weekend of Big Sky action. The Lumberjacks swept MSU before beating Montana in four. NAU then traveled to Sac State, and prevailed on the road in five sets.
The all-time series between Eastern and NAU stands at 33-22, in favor of the Eagles. The teams split the series last year, with each team winning on its home court. The Eagles dominated NAU in Cheney, 3-0, but then fell in a five-set heartbreaker in Flagstaff, which was the match that put Eastern out of contention for a bid to the 2010 Big Sky tourney.
Eagle Volleyball News & Notes
Five and Counting...With the recent road sweep of the Montana schools, Eastern extended its current winning streak to five-in-a-row. The Eagles beat Southern Utah on Sept. 10 in its final match of the UNLV Invitational, and then won its first four Big Sky matchups against Weber State, Idaho State, Montana State and Montana.
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 seven five-set matches already this season, and has prevailed in six of the seven, which includes its three most recent matches. In three of its six five-set victories, Eastern has held its opponent to less than 10 points.
Petroni Turns in Big Sky's Top Defensive Performance to Tie Career-High - Senior libero Lindsey Petroni (Spokane, Wash.) tallied 33 digs in Eastern's 3-2 win at Montana. Those 33 pickups marked the best defensive effort of any player thus far in the 2011 season. It tied her career-high mark, as Petroni also had 33 against Idaho on Sept. 3, 2009. She is now one of three players in EWU history to have at least four 30+ dig performances in her career.
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.
Stellar Statistics - Eastern Washington ranks among the top three Big Sky teams in five of seven statistical categories. The Eags are first in the league in blocking (2.44/set), second in service aces (1.28/set) and third in hitting percentage (.196), kills (12.16/set) and assists (11.34/set). These numbers directly relate to the overall standings, as the Eagles currently own the third-best overall record in the Big Sky at 8-6. Eastern is actually leading the Big Sky race through with a perfect 4-0 record.
Eagles Excel at the Net - In 12 of its first 14 matches of the 2011 season, Eastern has out-blocked or had the exact same number of blocks as its opponent. The Eagles have tallied double-digit blocks in eight contests, and have only once had less than eight total team blocks in a match. EWU is currently the No. 1 blocking team in the Big Sky, averaging 2.44 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 eight double-doubles. She has had a double-double in four of the last five outings. In Eastern's match against Southern Utah on Sept. 10, Niemeier dazzled with a season-high 42 assists and then-career-high 15 digs. She topped that though with 16 digs against Montana State on Sept. 23, to go along with 23 assists.
Freshmen Firepower - This season, Eastern has relied on three freshmen who are frequently 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 14 matches of the 2011 season, averaging 1.35 kills and a conference-leading 1.13 blocks per set. She has posted double-digit kills in two matches, including a career-high 12 at Montana on Sept. 24. Brown has tallied at least seven kills in the last six-consecutive outings, and has had five or more blocks in five of the last six matches. Her counterpart, Talia Fermantez (Honolulu, Hawaii), contributes 1.45 kills per set and 0.75 blocks. Fermantez has also come on strong in the last seven matches, averaging 7.4 kills per match. She also posted a career-high against the Grizzlies with 13 kills on a .310 hitting percentage. The Eagles have also started a freshman on the outside in every match thus far in the season. Kelsey Julian (Kennewick, Wash.) averages 0.87 kills per set and 0.69 blocks. She posted a season-high seven kills and six blocks against UNLV on Sept. 10.
Seven for No. 7 - Junior Shelby Puckett (Latah, Wash.), who wears No. 7 for the Eagles, has posted double-digit kills in the last seven-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. On the season, Puckett's 3.02 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 13 of 14 matches this season. She has tallied double-digit digs in nine of those 14 outings, including a career-high 29 against Idaho State on Sept. 17. She currently ranks eighth among defensive specialists in the Big Sky, averaging 3.65 digs per set. She also ranks among the top 250 in the nation.
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.
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.
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.