Eastern leads Northridge in kills and digs, but it's not enough to overcome multitude of offensive errors
After surviving its first two five-set matches of the 2011 season, the luck finally ran out for the Eastern Washington University volleyball team, as the Eagles fell to Cal State Northridge, 3-2 (29-27, 19-25, 25-18, 20-25, 15-10) on Friday (Sept. 9) at the UNLV Invitational in Las Vegas, Nev.
With the loss, Eastern falls to 3-5 in the 2011 campaign, while the Matadors improved their season record to 5-3. The Eagles will next take on UNLV on Saturday (Sept. 10) at 12:30 p.m., followed by a matchup with future Big Sky member Southern Utah at 4:30 p.m.
Friday's match was about as close as two teams can play. In the first set alone, there were 13 ties and five lead changes. Eastern jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead, but the Matadors responded and closed the gap at 11-11. After that, neither team was able to build more than a two-point lead the rest of the way. With the scored tied again at 27-27, CSUN came up with a huge block followed by a service ace to take the first set 29-27.
After enduring the tough loss in the first, Eastern came out with a vengeance in the second, recording a blistering .364 attack percentage of 14 kills and only two errors on 33 total attempts. The two teams traded points to start the set, but a service error by CSUN's Syndey Gedryn gave Eastern a 9-8 edge, and the Eagles never looked back. Freshman Amanda Brown had a perfect showing in the second set with three kills on three attempts and zero errors.
In the third set, Eastern knotted the score at 13 off a solo block by freshman Talia Fermantez, but Northridge then scored 11 of the next 14 points to earn an irrevocable 24-14 lead. The Eagles managed to score four unanswered points, but the deficit was just too big, as Northridge eventually scored that final point for the 25-18 victory. The tables were turned in the fourth set though, as Eastern was the team to utilize a few significant runs to come up with the win.
The seesaw continued in the fifth set, which featured five ties and four lead changes. The Matadors earned an early 7-5 edge, but back-to-back kills by sophomore Ashley Wright and junior Shelby Puckett tied it back up at 7-7. On the next play, CSUN's Casey Hinger slammed a kill that sparked a 6-1 run for Northridge. The Matadors committed two service errors in the final four points, but Eastern could not take advantage of the miscues, as Northridge prevailed 15-10.
"Tonight was a battle of runs," said EWU head coach Miles Kydd. "Both teams were on the favorable side of them at some point, but we're just not at the point yet where our team can earn that necessary sideout and then battle back from a deficit."
"Our team is a lot younger than it appears," added Kydd. "We had only one senior on the floor tonight, and although we have two experienced juniors out there in Shelby [Puckett] and Cora [Kellerman], the rest of our starters are underclassmen. It's tough to survive those kind of matches with that much youth."
Eastern tallied 13 more kills than CSUN, and had an 83-71 edge in digs, but the major disparity came in offensive errors. The Eagles committed 34 hitting errors, compared to just 18 for Northridge.
Eastern was also out-blocked for the first time this season, as the Matadors recorded 12 total team blocks and Eastern eight. This was attributed to the absence of Eastern's leading blocker, senior Chenoa Rossi-Childress, who was sidelined due to injury. Coming into the match, Rossi-Childress was the leading blocker in the Big Sky, and ranked third in the league in attack percentage.
"There was a noticeable void in the middle," said Kydd. "Not necessarily in talent, because our other two middles are highly skilled players, but Rossi is a senior and brings a level of maturity and familiarity to the court."
"The hardest relationship on the floor is that between a setter and the middles," added Kydd. "There is a major trust factor there that just takes time to develop. Right now, the connection between our setters and two freshmen middles is a work in progress."
Four different Eagles recorded double-doubles in the match, which included Puckett, who led the team with 19 kills on a stellar .340 clip. She also tallied 13 digs, four assists and two blocks.
Junior Cora Kellerman had 17 kills and 18 digs for her third double-double of the season, while sophomore setter Lindsay Niemeier tallied a season-high 32 assists, to go along with 10 digs and four service aces.
Junior setter Laney Brown had 19 assists and 12 digs, while also turning in a perfect night offensively with three kills on three attempts and no errors.
Senior libero Amy VanderWel had arguably the best outing of her career with a team-high 19 digs. VanderWel has picked up double-digit digs in six of Eastern's eight contests this season.
Fermantez finished with a season-high seven kills, while Brown chipped in six kills and a team-high four blocks.