September 10, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Sept. 10, 2007

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What must have seemed like a single three-week road trip is over, and the Eastern Washington University volleyball team will play its initial home contests of the 2007 season this weekend. After playing a challenging slate of nine contests to begin the campaign, the Eagles take on Weber State and Idaho State on Thursday (Sept. 13) and Saturday (Sept. 15), respectively. First serve for the WSU match will be at 7 p.m., while the ISU contest begins at 1 p.m.

The Eagles will bring some impressive recent history into this Thursday's match, as Eastern Washington has won 17-of-18 home openers and 10-of-11 Big Sky home-opening contests.

Weber State (3-4) has had an up-and-down season so far. The Wildcats opened its season with a 3-2 loss to Wyoming in their home-opening contest before sweeping all three matches at the North Florida Labor Day Classic and then going 0-3 at the Utah Valley Invitational. The Eagles have taken five straight meetings with the Wildcats and 11 straight match-ups to take place on the EWU campus.

Idaho State (3-7) has rallied from a 0-3 record at the Oregon Tournament to go 3-4 since then. The Bengals have gone the full five games in each of their past two matches, defeating UC Riverside and losing to Robert Morris at the UC Riverside Tournament. Eastern and Idaho State split last season's meetings, as each team won in four games on its home court. Eastern has taken 11 consecutive meetings to occur in Cheney.

In Eastern's most recent road trip, the Eagles (1-8) played a couple of top-25 teams in No. 16 Hawai'i and 19th-ranked Santa Clara and a third, Wichita State, which swept SCU and took the homestanding Rainbow Wahine to five games before succumbing.

The most memorable moments of the weekend for Eastern came in the first games of the team's matches with Hawai'i and Santa Clara. Versus the Rainbow Wahine, the Eagles held a 29-27 lead before Hawai'i staved off two straight game points and defeated the Eagles. In the SCU contest, Eastern Washington was down 25-18 in the initial stanza before improbably staging a clutch rally, scoring seven straight points to tie the contest, 25-25. Unfortunately for Eastern, the Broncos pulled away from a 26-all tie for a 30-26 win.

"Finishing up (the pre-conference schedule) in Hawai'i was a great experience," interim head coach Irene Matlock said. "Hawai'i has such tradition and was ranked 16th at the time. We played an All-American on the other side in Jamie Houston. How good is that experience? Then we played Santa Clara, which was ranked 19th. Their level of play gave us the experience to tell us what we have to do to be able to compete at that level. And then we met Wichita State, which beat Santa Clara at that tournament and is a good squad. All three of those teams were great teams to play.

"The biggest thing that happened in Hawaii was that, in our match with Wichita, there was a calm on the court. We had been stuck in panic mode (in previous matches), our hearts racing, and we had a calmness and focus in that match. It was really nice to see. I believe that is going to be a pivotal point for us that we can start playing and stop worrying about the little things."

 

Hills Getting Some Elevation

Sophomore outside hitter Hayley Hills has had an amazing set of performances over the first three weeks of the season, as she has earned mention to all-tournament teams in each of the tournaments that Eastern Washington has played in, the Sheraton Four Points Wildcat Classic, the PowerAde/Asics Classic and the Waikiki Beach Marriott Volleyball Classic.

She is one of just four Big Sky Conference players to earn all-tournament honors three separate times this year. The others are Montana State's Laura Viren, Northern Arizona's Kim Babcock and Sacramento State's Lindsay Houpt.

Hills has led the Eagles in kills in seven of nine matches.

"Hayley is a dynamic player, a jumper, who has gotten the kills we have needed from the outside," interim head coach Irene Matlock said. "She also comes in with a combination in the middle, has done serve receiving/passing and is a good consistent server; she is an all-around player for us."

In the first weekend of play on the University of Arizona campus, she tallied 3.3 kills and 2.4 digs per game in the three matches.

Her best performance that weekend came against the host Wildcats, when she recorded 15 kills to lead the team and break a personal record, previously set at 14 in a 3-1 win over Texas-San Antonio on Aug. 26, 2006.

In her next three matches at the University of San Francisco, she averaged 4.00 kills, 2.50 digs and 0.58 blocks per game and hit .291 (48-14-117) in the three matches.

Hills' best match that weekend came in Eastern's dramatic 3-2 win over Colgate, as she had 22 kills in that contest. That not only broke her previous career record of 15 (set just two matches previously in that Arizona contest), but it was also the most recorded by any Eagle since Chrystal Johnson had 25 in a 3-1 win over Northern Colorado on Nov. 2, 2006.

This past weekend, Hills tallied 2.44 kills and 2.22 digs per game in three matches. Her best performance came in Eastern's 30-27, 30-16, 30-24 loss to No. 19 Santa Clara. She led the Eagles with 11 of the team's 31 kills and also tallied nine digs, the third-highest Eagle total in that category.

For the season, Hills has 3.32 kills per game, the highest average on the team. She has also recorded 2.39 digs per contest, which is second on the squad. Her 0.26 service aces per game places her third, while she is fourth in blocks per game with 0.42.

 

Time to Make Some Noise

The Eagles enter 2007 with an amazing attendance streak, having averaged at least 1,000 fans per match for the past eight seasons.

Eastern Washington has also placed in the top 30 nationally in average attendance for the past 10 seasons with a high placement of 13th coming in 2003 (1,641 fans per contest).

Last year, Eastern Washington averaged 1,297 spectators per match, its best average in three years, and placed 26th in the final national rankings.

The Eagles have used that advantage to the utmost over the past 10 years, going 85-12 (.876 winning percentage) in that time frame.

"Thank goodness we're home," interim head coach Irene Matlock said. "Our crowd at Eastern is always so great. The young men from the track and field team who give such enthusiasm and character to the fans make it always exciting to play at home. It will be really nice to come home and have some backing. We're excited."

 

Unstoppable Chenoa

Freshman middle blocker Chenoa Coviare had a simply amazing performance in Eastern Washington's incredible comeback 25-30, 23-30, 30-18, 30-19, 15-10 victory over Colgate on Aug. 31.

In that match, Coviare hit .750 (17-2-20), an extraordinary hitting percentage for a five-game match, and was literally perfect the final three games, hitting 1.000 (8-0-8) in those contests.

The hitting percentage was the highest recorded by an Eagle (with at least 12 kills) since Brittney Page hit .875 (15-1-16) in a 3-0 sweep of St. Francis (N.Y.) on Sept. 1, 2006. It is also the second-highest hitting percentage recorded by an Eagle in at least five years.

She is setting the team pace in blocks per game so far this year with 0.97.

 

Amazing Amanda

Eagle sophomore setter Amanda Yausie finished her play at the Sheraton Four Points Wildcat Classic on a high note, tallying 51 assists in a 3-1 loss to Utah State on Aug. 25. The assist total is the sixth-highest total of her career. Even more impressively, she hit .571 (8-0-14) in that contest, by far the best hitting performance of her career (with at least eight attacks).

Her second-best career hitting percentage was set in her next match versus Colgate on Friday (Aug. 31), when she hit at a .333 clip (6-2-12). She had 51 assists in that contest, as well.

Not only is she setting the team pace in assists per game (9.62), but also in service aces per game (0.45).

Yausie had an outstanding freshman season for Eastern, placing fourth among Big Sky Conference players in assists per game and 201st nationally with 9.68. She was also fourth in the league in service aces per game with 0.34.

Her season- and career-high assist total of 55 came that year in an Oct. 5 four-game road win over Montana State. She finished the season with matches of 50+ assists and 11 with 40 or more assists tallied.

 

Stable in the Back

The Eagles return the mainstay of their backcourt in Mandy Daniels, as the junior is coming off an outstanding 2006 season. She placed sixth in the Big Sky Conference and 152nd among NCAA Division I players in digs per game with 4.4. When only conference matches were considered, her outstanding average of 5.36 digs per contest placed her second in the league.

She saved her best effort for last in 2006, as she had a 30-dig output in Eastern's conference championship match showdown with Sacramento State. That total helped Eastern as a team tally 101 digs, 12 more than the team's previous season high.

Daniels began 2007 on a high note, as she tied a career record for digs in a three-game match with 21 versus Arizona on its home court. That dig total also ties for the seventh-highest of Daniels' career in a match of any length.

That contest started an impressive stretch of four straight matches in which Daniels recorded at least 19 digs (21-20-19-22). She has tallied at least eight digs in each of Eastern's nine contests. She is leading the team with 4.23 digs per game.

"Mandy Daniels has done a great job as our libero," interim head coach Irene Matlock said. "She has dug some seriously great balls and has really picked up our defense."

 

Can You Smell What She is Cooking?

Freshman outside hitter Alysha Cook has played well for the Eagles as of late, as her 2.57 kills per game average is the second-highest on the team. She is also third on the squad in blocks per game with 0.50.

Her best performance of the season came in Eastern's meeting with No. 16 Hawai'i on its home court, as she led the Eagles in kills with nine. She also set the team pace in that category against Wichita State with eight putaways. She and Hayley Hills are the only two Eagles to lead the team in kills in a match so far in 2007.

Cook played in all three matches (and nine games) over the weekend after only being able to see time in five of Eastern's first 22 games of the season (three of six matches).

 

Ridiculous Ross

Sophomore outside hitter Chelsea Ross ended the 2006 season on the highest of highs, not only leading the team in hitting percentage in its two biggest matches of the season, but nearly breaking a record in the process.

In Eastern's 3-0 sweep over Portland State in the Big Sky Conference semifinals, Ross hit .692 (9-0-13), the third-highest hitting percentage in Big Sky Championship history

The next day, she hit .333 (5-1-12) in the championship match showdown with Sacramento State.

She has recorded double-digit kill totals three times so far in 2007, versus Utah State (10), Colgate (14) and Oral Roberts (14).

 

Ponce Returns Home

Honolulu native Kristen Ponce saw action in all three matches played in her home town this past weekend at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Volleyball Classic. She contributed 10 digs in Eastern's match with No. 19 Santa Clara.

"Kristen did a great job in the back court for us in Hawai'i," interim head coach Irene Matlock said. "She served some aces for us and is a great topspin jumper."

 

Jumping Jacoby (and Baby)

Heather Jacoby (maiden name Gordon) returns to the Eagle volleyball program after a two-year hiatus. In that time period, she and her husband, Michael, lived in Leesville, La., where he served in the Army at Fort Polk. During their time there, two hurricanes (Rita and Katrina) hit the area, which is located about 110 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico near the Texas border.

She and Michael have a son, Justin, who was born on Feb. 16, 2007.

Jacoby has seen action in three matches for the Eagles so far.

 

First Win on her Birthday

Eagle interim head coach Irene Matlock celebrated her birthday in a memorable manner on Aug. 31, as the Eagles were able to rally from 2-0 down to defeat Colgate, 25-30, 23-30, 30-18, 30-19, 15-10. That was also the first time that Eastern Washington has rallied from two games down since a 30-32, 26-30, 30-27, 32-30, 15-10 victory over Oregon State on Oct. 5, 2002.

Matlock came to Eastern with an impressive resume garnered from her time as the head coach at the Community Colleges of Spokane.

In her time at CCS, she amassed a stunning 715-246 record (.744 winning percentage), attaining winning marks in every season. Her 1988 record of 54-2 (.964) earned her the highest win total and winning percentage in Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (NWAACC) history.

In 1994, she was named the AVCA National Coach of the Year at the community college level.

She also has previous experiences with Eastern Washington, having earned a master's in science degree from the school in 1979. From 1977-79, she served as assistant coach and athletic intern, and she acted as the program services administrator in 1979.

She took over for former head coach Wade Benson, who departed on July 2 to take a position at Auburn.

 

Let's Get This Party Started Early

Eastern Washington began the 2007 campaign with the earliest start date in school history, Aug. 24. The earliest pervious "opening day" for Eastern volleyball was Aug. 25, which happened last year as the Eagles began that season with 3-0 wins over Syracuse and Louisiana Tech.

 

Eagles Place Fifth in Preseason Poll

The Eastern Washington Eagles were selected fifth in the Big Sky Conference's preseason poll. Five-time defending champion Sacramento placed first and was followed by Portland State, Montana, Weber State, EWU, Northern Arizona, Idaho State, Northern Colorado and Montana State.

 

Where Will the Team Start the 2008 Season?

The Eastern Washington Eagles have now opened the past nine seasons (1999-2007) in nine different districts/states (in chronological order from 1999: District of Columbia, Michigan, Maine, Florida, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Kansas and Arizona).

 

Big Sky Championship Alterations

There will be a couple of changes to the Big Sky Conference Championship this year, as the tournament will be played at a predetermined site and will be contested over just two days, not three.

Sacramento State, by virtue of its regular-season title last year, will play host to the Championship. Previously, the current season's regular-season champion would host the tournament.

The matches will take place from Nov. 23-24, with both the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds taking place the first day and the final the second.

The NCAA Tournament begins the following weekend at 16 nonpredetermined campus sites throughout the country.

 

Audio/Video Coverage

All matches played either at Reese Court or on the road in Big Sky Conference play will be available to view on the Internet through the Eagle GamePlan. Information on subscribing may be accessed at www.goeags.com. Passes may be purchased for EWU contests only (which includes football and men's and women's basketball games, as well), all Big Sky Conference teams' matches or for single games.

Audio coverage for Eagle football games will be available through KGA's website,  www.1510kga.com. Men's and women's basketball contests will be broadcast through Teamline and may be accessed at www.teamline.cc. There is no cost for these broadcasts.

More information, including rosters, schedules, releases and statistics for every Eastern Washington University athletics team, may be accessed at www.goeags.com.

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