Eagles Lose to Southern Utah in Five-Set Heartbreaker

Led by sophomore Kelsey Julian, Eastern records season-high 63 kills on a solid .216 hitting percentage, but Eagles lose their edge down the stretch

In the first-ever Big Sky matchup between the Eastern Washington University volleyball team and the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah, the Eagles were handed a tough 3-2 loss on their home court in Cheney, Wash. Despite a dominating performance in the second and third sets, Eastern could not hold on, as it dropped its 16th-consecutive match and fifth in the league season, 25-18, 16-25, 17-25, 25-22, 15-11.

With the win, Southern Utah improves to 7-9 overall and 3-2 in Big Sky play. Still searching for that elusive first win, Eastern will take on Northern Arizona on Friday (Sept. 28) at Reese Court starting at 7 p.m.

The Eagles committed 10 offensive errors in the first set, leading to a 25-18 loss. But after dropping the opener on their home floor, the Eagles responded with a vengeance. Eastern had 30 kills with just seven errors in the second and third sets for a combined .311 attack percentage. Eastern’s defensive was equally sharp, holding the Thunderbirds to just .109 hitting.

Eastern had the momentum on its side heading into the fourth set, but Southern Utah scored a quick two points to start it off, which shifted the energy in Reese Court just slightly. The Eagles continued to fight and kept it close the entire way. There were 11 ties and six lead changes in the set, but SUU used a late 6-2 run to eventually capture it, 25-22.

In the decisive fifth, Eastern dug itself into a dangerous 6-1 hole. But a timely service error by SUU sparked a 6-1 run for the Eagles, and they managed to tie it up at 7-7. Following a timeout called by Southern Utah, the Thunderbirds blocked five of the next six EWU attack attempts to take an irrevocable 14-8 lead. Senior Cora Kellerman saved three match points for her team with two kills and a solo block, but SUU put it away with a kill by senior Cashaana Renfro.

“We just got timid,” said EWU head coach Lisa Westlake. “We need to be tougher in these situations. We were up 2-1 after the third set, but then they started serving harder and we eased up on ours. Then our passing started to go as well. It was great to see us compete, but we need to finish.”

Eastern was led by sophomore Kelsey Julian (Kennewick, Wash.), who finished with a career-high 13 kills on a sizzling .550 attack percentage. She also had five digs, two blocks and an ace for the Eags.

“Kelsey did a phenomenal job,” commended Westlake. “She has been competing hard in practice, and her numbers have just been improving and improving. We gave her a chance tonight, and she went in there and took care of business.”

Freshman Allie Schumacher (Puyallup, Wash.) also tallied a career high 13 kills, and had six digs as a starter. Kellerman (La Conner, Wash.) registered her fourth double-double of the season with 12 kills and 12 digs.

Senior setter Laney Brown (Waterville, Wash.) finished the night with 50 assists - just two shy of her career-high set back in 2010. She also had eight digs and two kills. Junior Celeste Crosby (Spokane, Wash.) suited up as libero for EWU, and picked up a career-high 22 digs.

Eastern’s middle blockers, Talia Fermantez and Kellen Barfield, combined for 20 kills and seven blocks.

As a team, EWU tallied eight total blocks, but the Thunderbirds put up an impressive 17. SUU’s Renfro finished with 11 - the best blocking performance by any player in the Big Sky this season. Senior Ana Mailoto, currently the No. 1 hitter in league-only statistics, had 25 kills and 16 digs for SUU.

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