Cheney, Wash. – Tilts with six NCAA Championship participants from a season ago, including top-10 programs Missouri and Stanford, a trip to the East Coast and a grueling Big Sky slate highlight the 2014 Eastern Washington women's volleyball schedule as announced by head coach Wade Benson on Friday, May 1.
Eastern will play 29 regular season matches in 2014, including 16 matches as part of its Big Sky Conference schedule. The Eagles' nonconference slate features six teams who finished last season with RPI's lower than 75, including four teams with top-50 RPI's.
A new wrinkle comes in the form of Idaho rejoining the Big Sky after an 18-year hiatus as a member of the Big West and the WAC. The addition of Idaho brings the league to 12 teams and will split the conference into divisions of six teams.
Eastern's division includes Idaho, Montana, Montana State, North Dakota and Northern Colorado. The Eagles will play each team in its division twice, once at home and once on the road, and will see the six teams from the other division once throughout the season.
EWU opens its season with a trip to the East Coast, playing six matches in seven days. Eastern will take on Coastal Carolina and North Carolina State on the first day of the UNC Wilmington Tournament Friday, Aug. 29, before squaring off with either Villanova or Fairfield the following day.
Coastal Carolina won 19 matches a season ago and finished second in the Big South while North Carolina State notched 20 victories. Fairfield represented the MAAC in the NCAA Championship last season after winning the regular season and tournament titles.
The Eagles will then take on host UNC Wilmington on Monday, Sept. 1, before traveling to Charleston, S.C., to face the College of Charleston on Tuesday, Sept. 2. EWU's trip concludes with a match at High Point on Friday, Sept. 5.
UNC Wilmington went 20-10 last year while the College of Charleston won 25 matches to claim the CAA regular season and tournament titles, earning a spot in the NCAA Championship.
"Our opening trip to the East Coast allows us to play a number of good programs," head coach Wade Benson said. "Each match gives us an opportunity to strengthen our RPI and exposes us to a different style of volleyball than is played over here on the West Coast."
Eastern's next test comes at the Idaho Tournament in Moscow, Idaho, from Sept. 12-13. The Eagles open against Portland before taking on Missouri and Boise State on the second day. Missouri went 35-1 a season ago, completing an undefeated regular season and earning the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA Championship.
EWU welcomes Seattle to Reese Court for its home opener on Tuesday, Sept. 16, before closing out its nonconference schedule at the San Diego Tournament for the second year in a row from Sept. 18-19. Eastern will square off with three programs that earned spots in last season's NCAA Championship, taking on host San Diego on Thursday before facing Cal State Northridge and Stanford on Friday.
San Diego won the WCC regular season title and advanced to the Sweet 16 in last year's NCAA Championship as the No. 9 overall seed. Cal State Northridge went 24-7 and won a share of the Big West regular season title before advancing to the second round of the NCAA Championship. Stanford won 27 matches a season ago, finishing second in the Pac-12 and advancing to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Championship before falling to eventual national champion Penn State.
"It's always fun to go up against the best teams in the country," Benson said. "Playing opponents like San Diego and Stanford allow us to learn where our weaknesses are and work on improving them. It also gives us the chance to beat somebody who is in the top 10."
The Eagles open their Big Sky slate on the road against division opponents North Dakota and Northern Colorado. EWU faces UND on Thursday, Sept. 25, before taking on UNC on Saturday, Sept. 27.
EWU's first home Big Sky match is against Southern Utah on Thursday, Oct. 2, followed by a home tilt against returning member Idaho on Friday, Oct. 3. EWU then hits the road for matches at Sacramento State and Portland State before returning to Cheney for a four-match home stand beginning with Montana State on Thursday, Oct. 16.
Following home matches against Montana, last season's Big Sky Tournament champion Idaho State and Weber State, the Eagles are on the road for two consecutive weekends, playing at the Montana schools before taking on Northern Arizona on Thursday, Nov. 6, and Idaho on Saturday, Nov. 8.
Eastern wraps up its Big Sky schedule at home against Northern Colorado on Thursday, Nov. 13, and North Dakota on Saturday, Nov. 15.
"I think we've improved our personnel and will be stronger this season," Benson said. "Last year we learned about what other teams did and what the travel was like. I'm excited for the experience of going through the league again now that we know what to expect."
The Eagles welcome back nine letter winners from last year's squad. EWU inked three early signees back in November before receiving a National Letter of Intent from Nicole Rigoni earlier this week to bring its incoming class to four.