Bears Hand Eagles First Loss of Big Sky Season

Eastern can't find answer for UNC's outside Kelley Arnold, as Eagles fall 3-1 to defending champs

Riding a five-match winning streak, and perfect 4-0 mark in conference action, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team could not find a way past defending Big Sky regular-season champion Northern Colorado. Behind a dominant performance by junior outside hitter Kelley Arnold, the Bears topped Eastern, 3-1 (25-22, 23-25, 25-20, 25-22) on Friday (Sept. 30) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Arnold finished with 28 kills and only three errors on 48 total attempts. She scored 31.5 points for the Bears - nearly half of her team's total points on the night, and the most for any one player in the Big Sky this season. She also contributed a match-high six blocks.

"It's really disappointing because they beat us doing things they always do," said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "We had a game plan, we knew what they were going to bring, and we simply did not execute. We allowed their best players to do what they always do. Kelley Arnold hit above .500 - that is pretty ridiculous for an outside hitter. We took absolutely nothing away."

In the fourth set, Eastern gained the early momentum thanks in large part to a couple of service aces by sophomore setter Lindsey Niemeier. The Eagles had built a 13-6 advantage before UNC earned a sideout on a kill by outside Alyssa Wilson, which was followed by a kill another from Arnold. After the back-to-back points, Northern Colorado went on a 14-6 run to snatch a slight lead at 20-19.

Eastern tied it back up at 20-20, but Arnold then rattled off four of her 12 kills in the set to propel UNC to the 3-1 victory. Twenty-three of UNC's 25 points in the fourth set were kills.

"During that run in the fourth, I don't think we passed the ball inside the 10-foot line  once," observed Kydd. "We couldn't get into a rhythm and it just snowballed. I have never in my life seen a team score 23 of 25 points off kills. That shows we were doing a bad job blocking and bad job playing defense."

Eastern, which currently leads the conference in blocking, finished with eight team blocks, compared to 11 for UNC. The Bears also held a 78-70 advantage in digs.

For the sixth time this season, both of Eastern's setters registered double-doubles in the match, as Niemeier finished with 26 assists and 15 digs and junior Laney Brown tallied 21 assists and 11 digs.

Niemeier leads the conference in double-doubles, now with nine on the year. She also had a career-high five service aces, which ties the most aces by any player in the Big Sky this season.

Junior Shelby Puckett also posted a double-double of 14 kills and 11 digs, while also contributing four blocks. Sophomore Ashley Wright had seven kills and six digs, while freshman middle blocker Talia Fermantez tallied six kills on a .333 attack percentage.

Eastern's senior libero Lindsey Petroni picked up 14 digs and had three assists.

Northern Colorado's setter, Marissa Hughes, finished the match with 55 assists, 11 digs and three kills. Hughes was one of five Bears to post double-digit digs, which included Arnold, who tallied 14.

"We are not happy losing at home," said Kydd. "When someone comes into our gym and rolls us, that is really disappointing. Hopefully our girls respond tomorrow."

Eastern will have another match on Saturday (Oct. 1) at 7 p.m. against Northern Arizona, which just suffered its first loss of the 2011 season at Portland State. The Lumberjacks were 12-0 heading into the Rose City, but the Vikings ended the streak with a 3-1 upset on Friday.

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