Oct. 21, 2006
Raelynn Chaffee played 113 games for the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team, averaging more than 12 minutes per game with 52 blocked shots.
Now, she's blocking opponent attack attempts as a member of the women's volleyball team in her last season of collegiate competition.
And her inspiration came from a campus visitor last year.
Chaffee attended an Eagle Entertainment event last year that featured Ken Carter, the high school basketball coach immortalized by the blockbuster movie "Coach Carter." He was portrayed by actor Samuel L. Jackson in the movie, which was based on Carter's coaching experience and unwavering commitment toward academics by student-athletes.
Chaffee, who took part in EWU graduation ceremonies last spring, said she was inspired to try something she hadn't played since high school . . . volleyball.
Although she had used up her four years of NCAA eligibility as a basketball player, she still had a year to compete as an Eagle on the volleyball court.
"I talked to assistant coach Miles Kydd, and he said there might be a spot open and to try out in the spring," said Chaffee, who was an all-conference volleyball selection from 1999-01 at Boise High School.
Chaffee helped lead her high school to a basketball championship in 2002, and was part of a very potent EWU women's basketball team that has made deep runs into the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
She said she expected to be on the Eastern practice squad when she tried out for the volleyball team along with her basketball teammate Jamie Chicane. But it became apparent that she was improving enough to play frequently and eventually become a starter.
"We were thin in the middle and she's a real hard worker," explained EWU volleyball head coach Wade Benson. "She has an upbeat personality and doesn't expect a whole lot."
While Chicane decided to focus more on school, Chaffee stuck with the volleyball team.
"The level of the game is much higher," said Chaffee. "It was harder to mentally adjust."
Chaffee, who cracked the starting lineup in EWU's game against Portland State on Oct. 14, has amassed 30 kills and 38 blocks so far. Eastern has won six straight matches to improve to 13-7 overall and 5-5 in the conference heading into a home match against Idaho State on Oct. 26. Eastern lost its first five Big Sky matches but has won its last five.
"It was rough at first," said Chaffee about the five-match losing streak to start off conference play. "We had to get used to playing next to one another."
The Eagles have improved considerably, as evidenced by beating a Portland State squad that was 8-1 in conference play. After the ISU match, Eastern can set their sights on perennial nemesis Sacramento State when the league-leading Hornets visit Reese Court on Oct. 28.
"I just salute the team," said Benson. "They have pulled together and kept their head up through the tough times."
With the league tournament approaching -- and Eastern in a precarious position to garner one of the six positions in the tourney -- there is no margin for error. But there is plenty of time to work in the weight room and study film, said Benson.
"Because things can change in a night," he said.
And if Chaffee's transition from basketball to volleyball is any indication to how things can quickly change, hopefully the next transition the Eagles will be making will be a positive one.