Mini winning-streak comes to an end, as Eagles struggle to contain the defending Big Sky champion
In much the same way it happened first time around, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team dropped a 3-0 (25-16, 25-20, 28-26) decision to defending Big Sky Champion Northern Colorado on Thursday (Nov. 8) at the Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion in Greeley, Colo.
Although it was a sweep, Eastern did not go down without a fight, as it battled back from a 20-12 deficit in the second set and forced extra points in the third. But the Bears made important plays down the stretch to secure their eighth-consecutive win against the Eagles.
“We started off really shaky, and just couldn’t recover,” said EWU interim head coach Lisa Westlake. “Northern Colorado was just a better team tonight. We have to get better in two days if want to have a chance to compete with North Dakota.”
The Eagles will play UND on Saturday (Nov. 10) in their first-ever trip to Grand Forks. North Dakota will have momentum coming into the match after one of the Big Sky’s top dogs in Portland State on Thursday.
With the loss to UNC, the Eagles fall to 4-24 on the year and 4-13 in Big Sky play, while officially being eliminated from Big Sky tournament contention. Northern Colorado, which has already clinched its bid to the postseason, improves to 19-8 overall and 12-5 in league play.
The first time these two teams met in Cheney on Oct. 5, UNC handed Eastern a 3-0 loss with set scores of 25-19, 25-22 and 28-26 - quite similar to what transpired on Thursday in Greeley. In that first meeting, the Bears hit .378 to open the match, compared to .125 for the Eagles. Tonight, UNC was slightly better in the first set, recording a .455 attack percentage, while holding the Eagles to .118 hitting.
In the second set at Butler-Hancock, Eastern found itself in a dangerous 20-12 hole. But following a timeout called by Westlake, the Eagles scored eight of the next 12 points to pull within four at 24-20. It was just too little too late, as the Bears found the final point off a dump by senior setter Marissa Hughes.
Back on Oct. 5, Eastern faced the exact same deficit in the second set, before mounting a significant comeback that saw Eastern save three set points before falling, 25-22. The Bears hit .178 in the second set of that match, and almost an identical .179 tonight.
The third set on Thursday featured 16 ties and eight lead changes. Eastern had two set-point opportunities at 24-23 and 25-24, but the Bears extended the match with a couple timely kills. The Eagles then saved a set point of their own at 26-25, but 2011 All-Big Sky first-teamers Andrea Spaustat and Kelley Arnold had back-to-back kills to secure the sweep for the home team. In the meeting in Cheney, the match ended with an identical 28-26 score in the third, after 13 ties and nine lead changes.
Reigning Big Sky Player of the Week, senior setter Laney Brown, notched her eighth double-double of the year with 31 assists and 11 digs.
Senior Cora Kellerman added eight kills, six digs and two blocks, but only managed to hit a .091 clip. She had averaged a .321 attack percentage in the previous two road matches at NAU and SUU.
Sophomores Kelsey Julian and Talia Fermantez each had six kills, while Fermantez led the team in blocking with five.
Redshirt-freshman Kellen Barfield was nearly perfect on the night, with six kills and no errors on eight attempts.
Freshman Allie Schumacher added five kills, while junior Ashley Wright contributed three kills and eight digs.