Eastern Falls to Jackrabbits, 3-1, but Eagle Offense Sees Dramatic Improvement

Eastern records season-high .250 attack percentage in narrow loss to SDSU

Although it will go down as a loss, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team has a lot of positives to take away from this match.

In its second outing of the 2012 Gonzaga Invitational, the Eagles dropped a 3-1 (25-20, 25-23, 19-25, 25-13) decision to South Dakota State on Saturday (Sept. 1) in Spokane, Wash. But for the first time this season, Eastern hit above .200 and posted more kills than its opponent. Eastern had a 57-51 advantage in kills, 56-45 edge in assists, and picked up 15 more digs than the Jackrabbits.

“I’m very proud of the performance today,” said interim head coach Lisa Westlake. “We played a really nice, consistent match. We had a game plan coming into this tournament. Yesterday, we did not stick to that, and saw the consequences. But today, it all came together. We executed the plays we had practiced and fought hard in every set. It was a great effort.”

“It’s tough not to get the win,” added Westlake, “But we are doing what we can, and it’s just important for us to mentally hang in there.”

Eastern had three different players record double-digit kills, while fill-in setter Ashley Wright (Leavenworth, Wash.) nearly doubled her assist count from the previous four matches. The six-foot junior, who stepped in to run the offense for EWU after its two veteran setters were sidelined with injury, tallied 51 assists on Saturday. She had averaged 21 1/2 in her first four outings at the new position.

“Ashley is handling it great,” complimented Westlake. “We have to remember, she’s only been setting for two weeks. There’s a lot of feedback coming at her, but she is working hard to process it and execute what we tell her on the court.”

Eastern certainly had a better offensive rhythm against the Jackrabbits than seen in its previous matches, but a few too many unforced errors enabled SDSU to capture the win. The Eagles committed 23 hitting errors, compared to just 12 for the Jackrabbits. Eastern also gave up five points on service errors and had six ball handling violations.

In the first set, EWU fell behind early and couldn’t find the momentum needed to close the gap. The Eagles hit an impressive .344 clip, but South Dakota State was even sharper, recording 17 kills with only two errors on 33 total swings.

Eastern had five kills right off the bat in the second set, as it jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead. But a kill by SDSU’s Kelli Figen sparked an 8-1 run for the Jackrabbits, which gave them the one-point edge at 10-9. The two teams then traded points, with a total of 10 ties and seven lead changes in the set.

With the score knotted at 20, senior Shelby Puckett (Latah, Wash.) rattled off two-straight kills to give EWU a two-point advantage. But the Jackrabbits answered with a kill by Lexi Fowler, and SDSU went on to score four of the last five points to narrowly win it, 25-23.

The third set was EWU’s best offensive effort of the season. Eastern hitters found a way to fool the Jackrabbits with a mix of power and placement, as the team posted 16 kills with just three errors on 32 attempts. After averaging .409 in the first two sets, the Eagles held SDSU to .139 hitting in the third.

The Eagles dug a 13-4 hole early in the fourth set, and struggled to put much together after that, as the Jackrabbits rolled to a 25-13 victory.

Eastern had a trio of hitters record double-digit kills, led by senior Cora Kellerman (La Conner, Wash.), who registered a match-high 17. She also picked up 13 digs for her second double-double of the season.

Sophomore Talia Fermantez had a career outing, as she posted 16 kills on a .312 attack percentage and five blocks.

“Talia is taking care of her job,” said Westlake. “She is a sophomore, but we’re looking up to her like she’s been here for three years. We have had put her in the hot seat, but she’s responded really well.”

Puckett also finished with a double-double of 12 kills and 14 digs, while freshman Ryann Ensrud (Puyallup, Wash.) had a career-high 25 digs. The 5-7 libero has started every match for the Eagles this season, averaging 3.67 digs per set in her first year of collegiate volleyball.

Eastern will wrap up tournament play later this evening with a match at 6 p.m. against host-Gonzaga.

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