Enjoying a second-straight week at home, Eastern prepares for tough matchups against conference newcomer UND and defending regular-season and tournament champion UNC
What's Ahead for the Eags
Still in search of its first win of the 2012 season, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team will do its best to capitalize on some home court advantage this weekend in two tough Big Sky matchups at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles host North Dakota on Thursday (Oct. 4) in the first-ever meeting between the two schools. The following night (Oct. 5), Eastern will face two-time defending Big Sky champion and current No. 2 team in the conference, Northern Colorado. Both matches begin at 7 p.m.
Although EWU is winless on the season, the Eagles have won five sets in their last four outings, which is more than the team had won in its previous 13 matches combined. The Eagles forced five sets on the road against Montana State, and went the distance again when they played Southern Utah at home. Since the start of conference play, Eastern has averaged nearly two more kills per set than it did in the non-conference season, as well as three more digs.
Even with this noticeable improvement, Eastern will have a tall task ahead in taking on an unknown team in North Dakota and the defending regular-season and tournament champion Northern Colorado. But the Eagles will not let what’s on paper affect their preparation.
“We have watched film and know what we need to do to compete with these teams,” said EWU head coach Lisa Westlake. “But we don’t want to put extra pressure on the team based on the opponent. Nothing really changes in how we prepare week to week. We just want to go in fighting and do the best we can do on our side of the court. We need to follow the game plan, keep our heads in it and just keep fighting because on any given day, any team can win.”
vs. North Dakota: This is the first-ever meeting between Eastern and North Dakota.
vs. Northern Colorado: Along with snapping its 2012 losing skid, Eastern will also look to end a drought against Northern Colorado that has existed for more than two years. Eastern has not been able to capture a win against the Bears since the 2009 regular season. Since establishing itself as a volleyball powerhouse within the conference, Northern Colorado has won six in a row against EWU, which includes two postseason matchups. Northern Colorado upset the No. 1 seeded-Eagles in the 2009 Big Sky tournament with a 3-2 victory at Reese Court. UNC prevailed again in the 2011 edition in Portland, Ore., beating the Eagles 3-0. The all-time series between these two teams stands at 8-6, in favor of the Bears. When playing in Cheney, the two are even at 3-3.
Scouting North Dakota
- Prior to joining the Big Sky, North Dakota won three-consecutive Great West titles, while finishing the 2011 season with a 26-5 overall record. North Dakota returns three starters and three other letterwinners from that squad.
- North Dakota owns a 7-9 overall record and 3-3 mark in their inaugural Big Sky season. In each of those three losses though, UND has managed to take at least one set of off its opponent. North Dakota lost to 3-2 to Montana and Northern Colorado, and dropped a 3-1 decision to Idaho State. Its three wins came against Montana, Weber State and Sac State.
- So far in the league season, UND boasts two of the top 10 hitters in the conference in junior middle Ronni Munkeby and sophomore outside Lexi Robinson. Both players average more than three kills per set, while Munkeby’s .318 attack percentage ranks among the top five in league-only statistics. UND’s sophomore setter Nikki Husfeldt is third in the Big Sky in assists, averaging 10.81 per set.
- As a team, North Dakota ranks right in the middle in most statistical categories. After six conference matches, UND is sixth in kills, averaging 12.77 per set, fifth in hitting percentage (.194), sixth in opponent hitting percentage (.181), sixth in blocks (2.52/set) and seventh in service aces (1.00/set).
Scouting the Bears
- With three returning All-Big Sky players, including 2011 MVP Kelley Arnold, the Bears have had a strong start to their season at 12-3 overall and 5-1 in league play. Its only loss in conference was a five-setter against Idaho State in Pocatello. The Bears swept Weber State and Sac State, beat the Montana schools in four, and outlast North Dakota in five in their most recent duel.
- Arnold has remained the biggest threat for UNC, averaging 3.50 kills per set on a .295 attack percentage. But sophomores Andrea Spaustat and Tambre Haddock have also become major targets, averaging nearly five kills per set between the two.
- With a .257 attack percentage, Northern Colorado is the most efficient offensive team in the league. But the Bears are equally as tough on the defensive side, boasting the second-best opponent hitting percentage in the Big Sky at .155.
Eagle News & Notes
First Set Setbacks: In 17 matches this season,
Eastern Washington has yet to win a first set. Eastern has endured
11 sweeps in 2012, had four four-set losses, and lost twice
in five sets. But of those eight sets EWU has won, none were the
opener. Eastern seems to play its best volleyball in set No. 3, as
five of the eight sets won this year have been the third, including
three matches in which the team was down 2-0 heading into that set.
But as EWU has not won an entire match, maybe the key could be
winning that first set.
Kelsey’s Career Night: Coming off the bench for EWU, sophomore Kelsey Julian had a career night, as she led the Eagles in a narrow 3-2 loss to Southern Utah. Julian posted a career-high 13 kills on a sizzling .550 attack percentage. In five sets, Julian made just two offensive errors - the most efficient performance of any outside hitter on the court that night. She also had five digs, two blocks and a service ace.
Due to Injuries, Eagle Experience “Revolving Door” Rotation: Within the first month of competition in the 2012 season, the Eastern Washington volleyball team had five of its nine returning letterwinners on the injured reserve list. Three of those five affected players, including seniors Laney Brown and Shelby Puckett and junior Celeste Crosby, have since returned to the lineup, but in the midst of all the injuries, head coach Lisa Westlake had to experiment with a variety of rotations. All 16 players on the 2012 roster have played in at least one set for EWU, while 13 different players have appeared in the starting lineup at least once.
Early-Season Setting Woes: Although said to be almost impossible, it seems lightning did in fact strike twice on the Eastern Washington University volleyball team. Two weeks before the 2012 season began, senior setter Laney Brown suffered an injury to her big toe, which required surgery and had a projected 6-12 week recovery. Luckily though, Eastern had two-year starter Lindsay Niemeier ready to run offense for EWU. But in the 2012 season-opener in Laramie, Wyo., the junior setter went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She had surgery on the knee Sept. 12, but is not likely to return in the 2012 season. Eastern played the first eight matches and 26 sets of the season without an experienced setter. Brown was able to return to the starting lineup during the Iowa State Challenge Sept. 7-8, and has been running a 5-1 offense ever since, with assistance from junior Ashley Wright in the front row.
Talia Fermantez Named to Gonzaga Invite All-Tournament Team: Sophomore Talia Fermantez was recognized for her strong performance both offensively and defensively at the Gonzaga Invitational (Aug. 31-Sept. 1). The 6-1 middle blocker was one of six elite athletes named to the All-Tournament team following the two-day event in Spokane, Wash. Fermantez, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii, averaged 3.20 kills per set and 1.20 blocks in Eastern’s three matches against UC Riverside, South Dakota State and host-Gonzaga. She registered 32 total kills on the weekend, with just eight errors on 74 attempts for an impressive .324 attack percentage. She also had 12 total blocks, which was three times as many as any other player on the team. Fermantez scored a total of 39 points for her team at the tourney. In Eastern’s narrow 3-1 loss to tournament-champion South Dakota State, Fermantez posted a career-high 16 kills - three more than her previous career high.
Smart Cookies: In 2009 and 2010, 11 members of
the Eagle squad were named to the BSC All-Academic team and 10
Eagles were honored in 2011 - that is the most of any volleyball
team in the conference all three years.
Eastern’s Tradition of Excellence: For 16 consecutive years, Eastern Washington has had at least one player on the All-Big Sky First Team, and since becoming an official member of the Big Sky Conference, the Eagles have had five different players named Big Sky MVP. Eastern has finished in the top four of the Big Sky regular-season standings and advanced to the semifinals of the BSC tourney 15 of the last 16 years. The Eagles have reached the championship match 10 times since becoming a member of Division I athletics, and have advanced to the NCAA Championship four times.