With a new setter and new coach, Eastern prepares for three matches this weekend in Spokane, Wash.
The Eastern Washington University volleyball team has had to deal with a few unexpected changes since the start of the 2012 season. Injuries to both its veteran setters has left the team in a bit of a scramble to fill what is arguably the most important position on the court. But beyond the setting dilemma, Eastern will head into the second week of competition in the 2012 campaign with a new head coach.
An assistant coach with the program for four years prior, Lisa Westlake recently assumed the role of interim head coach for the remainder of the 2012 season. Her first duty - the Gonzaga Tournament this Friday (Aug. 31) and Saturday (Sept. 1) at the Martin Centre in Spokane, Wash.
Eastern (0-4) will open tournament play at 4 p.m. Friday against UC Riverside. The Eagles will return on Saturday for two more matches against South Dakota State at 11 a.m., and host-Gonzaga at 6 p.m.
After a 0-4 start to the season, the Eagles are certainly anxious for that first win. When junior setter Lindsay Niemeier went down with a knee injury in the very first match of the year in Laramie, Wyo., the Eagles turned to junior Ashley Wright. Listed as a six-foot outside hitter, Wright has spent the past week learning the offense from a different perspective. But hopefully now, after a few days of practice with the new setter, Eastern will be better adjusted and ready for a competitive weekend in Spokane.
Eastern has played UCR and SDSU just once in school history, and neither was that recent. The first and only meeting between the Eagles and Highlanders was back on Sept. 18, 1987 - Eastern’s first year as an official member of the Big Sky Conference. EWU won that contest, 3-1. The Eagles played South Dakota State seven years ago in Eugene, Ore., winning that match also by a score of 3-1.
As cross-town rivals, the Eagles and Bulldogs are much more familiar opponents. The two teams have played 41 times in history. Eastern leads the all-time series, 25-16, but in the most recent meeting on Nov. 17, 2010, the Zags swept EWU, 3-0 in Spokane.
Scouting the Opposition
UC Riverside - The Highlanders are coming off a tough 2011 season that saw the team go 7-23 overall and just 4-12 in the Big West Conference. But UCR returns a lot of experience, as five starters plus the libero, and six other letterwinners are back for the 2012 campaign. The Highlanders went 2-1 in their season-opening tournament in Hempstead, N.Y., recording a pair of 3-0 wins against Fairleigh-Dickinson and Providence, before losing to host-Hofstra, 3-0. UCR is led by senior outside hitter Amanda Vialpando, who was named to the Hofstra Asics Invitational All-Tournament team. She averaged 4.11 kills per set on a .350 attack percentage in UCR’s first three matches of the season. The Highlanders are coached by Ron Larsen, who has 16 years of experience as an NCAA head coach, but in his three years at UCR, has compiled a 15-74 record. Roster Connection: Eastern outside hitter Kayla Randles actually started her collegiate volleyball career at Riverside. She was a member of UCR’s 2010 squad, but did not see any court time, as she utilized a redshirt year. But as a native of Yakima, Wash., Randles transferred to Eastern Washington in 2011.
South Dakota State - The Jackrabbits will come to Spokane with a 2-2 record on the season. SDSU swept Southeast Missouri State and Chicago State in its first weekend of action, but also suffered a 3-1 loss to Iowa - a team Eastern will face next weekend - and a 3-2 loss to Valpraiso. The Jackrabbits returned four starters and the libero from their 2011 roster, which includes All-Summit League First-Team selection Kelli Fiegen. The 6-3 middle blocker led the Jackrabbit offense last weekend with 41 kills on a .459 hitting percentage, while also adding 12 total blocks.
Gonzaga - Gonzaga’s young 2012 roster features seven returning letterwinners and nine newcomers. The Zags opened the season with a 3-2 win over Big Sky powerhouse Portland State, which has won three of the last five BSC regular-season titles, as well as the 2008 and 2010 tournament title. But following that narrow victory over the Vikings, Gonzaga lost its next two matches to No. 12 Washington and Boise State - both of which were 3-0 sweeps. At the Northwest Challenge in Seattle, Wash., Gonzaga used primarily freshman setter Lauren Joseph, but the Zags also have two-year letterwinner Mengya Wang and sophomore transfer Katie Rutherford to run the offense. Redshirt-freshman Savannah Blinn was the main offensive threat for GU in the season-opening tournament, averaging 2.82 kills, but the Bulldogs have several other options as well on the outside and in the middle.