The Eastern Washington volleyball program has a rich tradition of success, both nationally and in the Big Sky Conference. EWU has appeared in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship four times in its history, and is the only Big Sky member to have won an NCAA Tournament match, defeating Oregon State in the first round in 2001. The Eagles have claimed six Big Sky titles since joining the conference in 1983, winning four conference crowns over the past 11 seasons. Eastern has finished no worse than fourth in the league standings in 15 of the last 17 seasons and has advanced to the semifinal round of the Big Sky Tournament in each of those campaigns. EWU has seen its student-athletes earn a total of 70 All-Big Sky Conference Awards while five Eagles have earned Big Sky Player of the Year honors. Academically, Eastern has earned 390 Big Sky All-Academic Team awards and has received AVCA Team Academic Award honors nine times.
Eastern Washington joined the ranks of NCAA Division I prior to the 1983 season as part of the Mountain West Athletic Conference. Barb Moe led the Eagles for their first two seasons of NCAA DI competition before Pamela Parks returned to her alma mater as head coach prior to the 1985 campaign, and the Eagles promptly began an era of unprecedented success. EWU appeared in its first conference tournament in 1986, advancing to the semifinals after winning 20 games for the first time in program history. The 1987 campaign marked the transition from the MWAC to the Big Sky, and it took just three seasons before Eastern made its first appearance in the NCAA Championship. Led by Big Sky Player of the Year Juli Argotow, the 1989 edition of the Eagles finished the year with a 25-7 record, including a 14-2 mark in league matches, en route to winning the Big Sky regular season and tournament titles.
EWU saw its winning ways continue into the 1990s as the program reeled off three consecutive 20-win campaigns beginning in 1997. Led by two-time Big Sky Player of the Year recipient Kim Exner, the Eagles won the Big sky regular season title in 1997 before earning at-large bids to the NCAA Championship in both 1998 and 1999. Arguably the greatest player in Eastern history, Exner is the only Big Sky player to earn AVCA National Player of the Week honors, winning the award during the 1998 season. She was twice selected to the AVCA All-District VIII Team and earned Big Sky Player of the Week honors 10 times during her career.
Parks transitioned into an administrative role following the 1999 campaign, becoming Eastern’s Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator. Luckily for the Eagles, a prominent assistant was waiting in the wings ready to lead the program to new heights. Wade Benson was named EWU’s new head coach prior to the 2000 season and promptly led Eastern to 19 wins and a trip to the Big Sky Tournament championship match, setting the mark for what was to come.
The Eagles won 21 games in 2001 and claimed the Big Sky Tournament title after winning three matches in three days behind Big Sky Tournament MVP Janelle Ruen. Going up against regional power Oregon State in the first round of the NCAA Championship, Eastern outlasted the Beavers in five sets to become the first Big Sky member to advance past the opening round.
Just when it seemed impossible to top the Eagles’ incredible 2001 campaign, EWU went on to 29 matches in 2002, losing just twice on the year en route to claiming its third conference banner. Ruen was named Big Sky Player of the Year and earned AVCA All-Region VIII Honorable Mention honors while Benson was tabbed as Big Sky Coach of the Year. Despite setting a Big Sky record for wins in a season, Eastern was infamously left out of the 2002 NCAA Championship after falling to Sacramento State in the Big Sky Tournament championship match.
Undeterred by their omission from the big dance, the Eagles would go on to win Big Sky titles in 2003 and 2004, losing just three matches in two seasons and advancing to the conference tournament’s title match each year. Benson led Eastern to its fifth and sixth 20-win seasons in 2005 and 2006 as the Eagles returned to the Big Sky Tournament’s championship match each season.
Under Benson, EWU enjoyed a tremendous home court advantage at Reese Court, averaging more than 1,000 fans in each of his seven seasons. The Eagles ranked in the top 30 in attendance each year, ascending to as high as 12th in the 2003 season. Eastern lost just nine home matches in Benson’s seven seasons, going undefeated in 2000 and dropping just one contest in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. A school-record crowd of 2,449 watched the Eagles defeat Weber State in four sets in a Big Sky Tournament semifinal match on Nov. 22, 2002, before just over 2,000 spectators witnessed Eastern’s defeat at the hands of Sacramento State in the conference tournament’s championship match the next day. The following year, a crowd of 2,016 watched EWU get revenge on the Hornets with a dominant three-set victory on Oct. 12, 2003.
Benson accepted the head coach position at Auburn following the 2006 campaign, but the Eagles returned to the Big Sky Tournament in 2007 before winning the league for a sixth time in 2008 under new head coach Miles Kydd. Led by Big Sky Player of the Year Hayley Hills, EWU finished the year with an 18-11 mark, including a 12-4 record in league matches. Kydd would take Eastern as far as the Big Sky Tournament semifinal round in two of the next three seasons before resigning after the conclusion of the 2011 campaign.
While winning has always been a trademark of Eastern’s volleyball program, the Eagles take tremendous pride in their success in the classroom, as well. EWU has earned AVCA Team Academic Award honors nine times in its history, including six consecutive years from 1998 to 2004. Eastern has seen nine student-athletes earn a total of 10 CoSIDA Academic All-District VIII honors while nearly 400 Big Sky All-Academic awards have been received in the program’s history.