Eastern prepares for first-ever Big Sky matchup against Thunderbirds on Thursday at Reese Court
What's Ahead for the Eags
It’s a busy weekend in Cheney, Wash., and the Eastern Washington University volleyball team will get the party started with an anticipated matchup against new Big Sky member, Southern Utah, on Thursday (Sept. 27) at Reese Court. First serve between the Eagles and Thunderbirds is slated for 7 p.m. Eastern will then take one of the league’s best teams in 2012, Northern Arizona, on Friday (Sept. 28), also at 7 p.m.
To round out the weekend's events, the seventh-ranked Eastern Eagle football team will host host No. 21 Montana on Saturday (Sept. 29) in the long-awaited home opener at Roos Field.
After a disappointing trip to the Montana schools, the volleyball team is still looking for its first win of the 2012 campaign. Eastern did take two sets off Montana State before narrowly losing the match in five, but then the Eags endured their 11th sweep of the season at the hands of Montana.
“Along with motivational talks about maintaining a positive attitude and positive outlook, we have been doing a lot of drills in practice to actually help the team deal with the kind of adversity they will face match to match,” said EWU head coach Lisa Westlake. “In order to start winning mathces, we have to be stronger mentally to fight through the ups and downs in a game. We are putting the team in pressure situations where they have to recover after making an error or they have to win two points in a row in order to move on. We want them to have to fight to earn a point.”
With a slightly different approach to practice and some home-court advantage for their next four matches, the Eagles are poised to finally put that first win on the board.
vs. Southern Utah: As one of the newest members of the Big Sky Conference, the Thunderbirds and Eagles have a very brief history as opponents. In fact, the two teams have met only once and that was just last year in an early-season tournament in Las Vegas, Nev. The Eagles edged SUU, 3-2, in quite a thrilling match. Set scores were 23-25, 25-23, 26-28, 25-19, 15-13. Seniors Cora Kellerman and Shelby Puckett each had 18 kills in that outing, while junior Ashley Wright contributed 12.
vs. Northern Arizona: Over the past few years, Eastern and Northern Arizona have certainly given their fans some excitement, as four of the last six meetings between these two teams have gone to five sets. In 2011, each team actually won on the other’s home court after going the distance. In Cheney, Eastern had a commanding 2-0 lead heading into intermission, but after the break, NAU charged back to win the match, 3-2. In Flagstaff, the Eagles again earned a 2-0 advantage before allowing the Lumberjacks to get back in it with wins in the third and fourth sets. But in that sequel, EWU hung on in the final set for a 15-10 victory. That dramatic win last season was the first for EWU at the Rolle Activity Center since 2007. The Eagles lead the all-time series with NAU, 34-23, with a slight 14-12 edge when playing in Flagstaff.
Scouting the Thunderbirds
- Southern Utah comes to Cheney with a 6-9 overall record and even 2-2 mark in Big Sky play. Its two conference wins came against Weber State and Sacramento State, both by a score of 3-1. The Thunderbirds were swept by league-leading Idaho State, and in their most recent matchup, they fell to Northern Arizona at home, 3-1.
- Senior outside hitter Analaine Mailoto leads the Big Sky Conference in hitting, averaging 4.47 kills per set in SUU’s first four league matches. She has 205 total kills this season. She is also one of the Thunderbirds top defensive players, averaging 2.93 digs per set.
- The No. 1 blocking team in the league, Southern Utah has three different players averaging more than one block per set in conference play. Senior Cashaana Renfro leads the way with a 1.67 blocks per set average, followed closely by sophomore Annie Stradling (1.20) and junior Kylie Schofield (1.13). As a result of the strong blocking, the Thunderbirds boast the second-best opponent hitting percentage in league-only statistics, holding teams to just .161.
Scouting the Lumberjacks
- At 11-2 in the 2012 season, Northern Arizona boasts the best overall record in the Big Sky. The Lumberjacks are 3-1 in league play, with their only loss coming against current league-leader Idaho State. NAU won its first eight matches of the year before falling to Pac-12 power California, which has been ranked or received votes in the AVCA Top 25 poll every week of the 2012 season.
- The Lumberjacks are currently riding a three-match winning streak, with road wins against Weber State and Southern Utah and a win at home against Sac State - a team Eastern lost to, 3-0, in its conference debut.
- Northern Arizona has had two different players honored as Big Sky Player of the Week this season. Senior outside hitter Kelli Dallman was recognized in the first week of the season, while sophomore middle blocker Sydney Kemper was the week three honoree. Dallman is averaging 3.56 kills per set to rank fourth overall in the Big Sky. Kemper is averaging 2.44 kills per set on a league-leading .391 attack percentage. She also contributes 1.12 blocks, which is among the top five in the conference.
- NAU’s senior libero Anna Gott, who was an All-Big Sky honorable mention selection in 2011, ranks second in the Big Sky in digging, averaging 4.75 per set. Sophomore setter Kalee Kirby ranks third in assists, with an average of 11.00 per set. She has had six double-doubles this season to rank among the top 10 in the league in that category.