Nov. 5, 2007
The race for the 2007 regular-season volleyball crown in the Big Sky Conference is going to come down to the wire, and all three teams in prime position for it will play each other in the final two weeks of the season. It all starts this week when Eastern Washington, in a virtual tie for second place with Sacramento State, plays host to Portland State at 7 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 10). Prior to that match, the Eagles will welcome Boise State for a 7 p.m. non-conference contest on Thursday (Nov. 8).
The following week, Sacramento State will take on Eastern Washington and Portland State on back-to-back nights in Cheney and Portland, respectively. The EWU-Hornet contest will begin at 7 p.m. on Nov. 16.
The Eagles bring a six-match winning streak into this week's contests, their longest since running off six straight victories from Nov. 2-17, 2006.
Eastern's first opponent this week, Boise State, is having a tough season, although the Broncos are coming off a win on their Senior Night, 30-23, 30-23, 30-26, over Louisiana Tech. That snapped a nine-match losing streak for the Broncos (5-20). The last meeting between Boise State and the Eagles happened on Nov. 9, 2005, when the Eagles pulled out a 3-1 win in Boise.
"This is a great time to have a non-conference match," interim head coach Irene Matlock said. "It gives us a chance to work on some things in competition.
"But what we're practicing for this week is Portland State - that's our entire focus. We're very excited about that match, playing the first-place team at our place."
The Portland State match will be the first of two showdowns Eastern Washington will have to finish its regular season. After the Vikings (19-6, 12-2 BSC) lost in a five-game heartbreaker at Sacramento State and in a sweep to Weber State on Oct. 12 and 18, respectively, they have won five straight contests to take over first place in the league standings.
Eastern Washington and PSU have had a tight series as of late, with EWU holding a 4-3 edge in the last seven matches played. The Eagles have, however, won all 12 meetings to take place in Cheney since the Vikings entered the Big Sky in 1996.
In addition to Eastern, Portland State and Sacramento State (23-6, 10-2 BSC), Weber State still has an outside shot at the regular-season title. The Wildcats (12-11, 8-4 BSC) have had an incredible season in their own right, having earned road wins over Eastern Washington and Sacramento State and a home sweep of Portland State.
This past weekend, the Eagles combined a dominating sweep of Northern Arizona with a clutch comeback 3-2 win over Northern Colorado.
"This last road trip was very hard and we are tired and will have a short practice today (Monday) to get our feet back under us and gear up for Portland State," Matlock said.
Against NAU, the Eagles not only had their highest hitting percentage of 2007 (.305), but also their lowest opponent's hitting percentage of the campaign (.050). Two Eagles hit over .500 in the contest in Hayley Hills (531, 20-3-32) and Chenoa Coviare (.526, 12-2-19). Those are the second- and third-highest hitting percentages earned by an Eagle so far in 2007 (minimum 12 kills).
Against Northern Colorado, Eastern rallied from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits for a dramatic clutch 34-36, 30-23, 25-30, 30-26, 15-11 victory. The Eagles now have eight comeback wins on the season and are 6-0 in five-game matches. Coviare had 10 blocks in the contest, the second-highest Eagle total of 2007.
Eastern Washington is having an incredible season of comebacks, having done so on eight occasions. That is the most enacted by an Eagle squad since the 1997 team (22-6) rallied from behind eight times. The school record of 10 (dating to Eastern's first season as an NCAA Division I member in 1983) was set by the 1989 squad, which went 25-7.
Coming from behind eight times in 12 wins (67 percent of the team's victories) is simply mind boggling. In comparison, over the past five years the Eagles have rallied from behind 19 times out of 114 wins (17 percent).
The first comeback win of the season was of the rare variety, as Eastern rallied from a 2-0 deficit in a 25-30, 23-30, 30-18, 30-19, 15-10 victory over Colgate on Aug. 31. That was EWU's first win after being down 2-0 since Oct. 5, 2002, when the Eagles topped Oregon State 30-32, 26-30, 30-27, 32-30, 15-10.
Going the Limit
Eastern Washington has gone an incredible 6-0 in five-game matches this year. To put that in perspective, the Eagles have not even played six contests to go the limit since 2001, when Eastern went 5-2 in five-gamers.
The last time EWU won at least six five-game contests was in 1990, when that team went 7-2 in those contests. The 1989 team, meanwhile, went 7-4 in five-gamers. That is the school record dating back to EWU's initial season as an NCAA Division I volleyball program in 1983.
The only team to go ever go unbeaten in five-game contests was the 2002 team, which went 29-2 overall. That Eagle team went 3-0 in fifth games.
The Eagles also played (and won) three straight five-game matches this year, from Sept. 22-29. The victories came over Montana, Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona.
That last happened for EWU when the Eagles toppled Nevada, Northern Arizona and Boise State in three successive five gamers from Sept. 21-28, 1990.
Eastern has not even played in three straight matches to go the limit since Oct. 12-16, 1993, when EWU lost to Washington State before beating Idaho State and Boise State.
"It makes for good entertainment, doesn't it?" interim head coach Irene Matlock asked. "It's good to know we can win in five."
A Match for the Ages
The Eagles won an absolutely incredible match on Oct. 25, outlasting Montana 30-26, 35-37, 40-38, 22-30, 17-15 in a thrilling contest, one of the highest scoring in NCAA Division I history.
The Grizzlies came within three points of the national record for points in a match (since the advent of rally scoring in 2001) while Eastern was five away from the mark.
When Eastern lost game two 37-35, it was the highest-scoring game that the team had played in since a 39-37, 28-30, 30-22, 30-18 win over Boise State on Oct. 21, 2004.
Then, about 40 minutes later, the Eagles surpassed even that by winning the third game 40-38. That became the team's highest-scoring game ever played.
The match was full of comebacks as well. Montana was down 25-20 and 29-27 before rallying for its game two win. In the third game, Eastern rallied from a 27-22 deficit by going on a 7-1 run for a 29-28 lead and the first of eight game points.
Then, in game five, the Eagles were holding on tenuously by a thread, trailing 14-12. At that point, the night got crazier when libero Mandy Daniels earned a kill when her attempt to just get the ball over the net landed for an Eagle point. Then a pair of Hayley Hills kills earned Eastern its own match point at 15-14.
Following a Montana point to tie the contest, Allison Reinstein earned EWU another match point when she put away a floater which was about to land on the top of the net. A UM attack error finally put an end to the three-hour marathon.
Hills Getting Some Major Elevation
Sophomore outside hitter Hayley Hills has had an outstanding season for the Eagles, as her 4.33 kills per game is not only the third-highest average among Big Sky Conference players this year, but would place her fourth in the EWU single-season record book.
She is also second on the Eagles in digs per game with 2.55, tied for fourth in service aces per game with 0.19 and fifth in blocks per game with 0.46.
Hills not only earned Co-Big Sky Player of the Week accolades on Oct. 22, but she was also named to the all-tournament team at each of the three preconference tournaments that Eastern participated in. These included the Sheraton Four Points Wildcat Classic, the PowerAde/Asics Classic and the Waikiki Beach Marriott Volleyball Classic.
She has led the team in kills in 20-of-24 matches and has incredibly posted 20+ kill totals in each of the past seven matches (11 in total on the season). Hills has also played very well in the back row, as she has contributed double-digit dig totals 12 times. She had 19 against Montana and Montana State on Oct. 25 and 27, respectively, to set career highs.
"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."
Her best kill output came against Idaho State on Sept. 15, when she had 30, just four off the school record (set at 34 by Kim Exner against Portland on Sept. 6, 1996). It's also tied for the third-most accumulated by a Big Sky player so far in 2007 and is the most in a four-game match.
Hills had 25 kills over Northern Colorado on Sept. 29, tied for the eighth-highest Big Sky sum.
Her 20 kills against Sacramento State on Oct. 13 was the most recorded by an Eagle in a three-game match since Lizzy Mellor had 21 in a sweep of Gonzaga on Oct. 18, 2005. She also hit .340 (20-4-47) in that match.
Spectacular in the Back
Serving as an impressive stabilizing force in the back row is junior Mandy Daniels. She has played well the entire season and is second in the Big Sky Conference with 4.78. That average would set a school record, currently held at 4.62 by Andrea Verdoljak, who posted that average in 2005.
Daniels has had 20+ dig totals on 12 occasions so far this season.
On Oct. 13, she tallied 24 digs in Eastern's match with Sacramento State, the highest total attained by an Eagle in a three-game match since Andrea Verdoljak had 24 in an Oct. 27, 2005, contest with Sacramento State. That total is also tied for the most recorded by a Big Sky player in a three-game match this season.
The first weekend of Big Sky Conference play, she had two of the best performances in Eagle history, tallying 29 digs in each contest. To put that into perspective, only seven times since the beginning of the 2002 season has any Eagle tallied 29 digs in a contest. That total is also tied for the 11th-most recorded by a league player so far in 2007.
"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. It's a nice, secure feeling having Mandy on the floor. She certainly helps us out."
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 stanzas.
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 and the second-highest posted by a Big Sky Conference player in 2007.
Coviare hit .526 (12-2-19) in Eastern's sweep of Northern Arizona on Thursday (Nov. 1), the third-highest hitting percentage recorded by an Eagle in 2007 (minimum 12 kills). She then had 10 blocks in EWU's dramatic 3-2 win over Northern Colorado two days later, the second-highest total earned by an Eagle this year.
In Eastern Washington's clutch 3-2 road win over Montana on Sept. 22, she also played well, tallying 14 kills and served at a high level, including serving up an ace to put Eastern up 14-12 in the fifth game.
"The ace at 14 was huge," interim head coach Irene Matlock said.
Coviare led the Eagles in kills in their match with Idaho, tallying 12.
She is also eighth in the Big Sky Conference (and tops on the team) in blocks per game with 1.05.
The Eagles have seen Amanda Yausie and Ashley Hamilton both see plenty of time in the setting position. After Yausie had most of the setting time the first part of the season, Hamilton has been Eastern's primary setter in its last several matches.
Hamilton posted 55 assists in Eastern Washington's 3-2 win over Northern Colorado on Saturday (Nov. 3), the highest Eagle total since Yausie had 55 versus Montana State on Oct. 5, 2006. Hamilton also hit .455 (6-1-11) in that contest.
Yausie has recorded 50+ assist totals on three occasions in 2007, tallying 51 in three separate matches. She had that total in Eastern's dramatic 3-2 win over Northern Arizona on Sept. 29. She also had that sum in a 3-1 loss to Utah State on Aug. 25 and in a 3-2 win over Colgate on Aug. 31.
Those totals tie for the sixth-highest assist total of her career.
She set a personal best in hitting percentage in the Utah State contest at .571 (8-0-14) before shattering that mark on Sept. 22 against Montana by hitting at a .625 clip (6-1-8).
Yausie has 8.81 digs per game to place herself sixth in the Big Sky, while Hamilton's 7.30 puts her in the 10th slot. Yausie has eight 40+ assist matches, while Hamilton has four.
Can You Smell What She is Cooking?
Freshman outside hitter Alysha Cook has played well for the Eagles, as her 2.81 kills per game average is the second-highest on the team. She is also third on the squad in blocks per game with 0.71.
She set the team pace in kills against Gonzaga on Oct. 9 with 12, hitting .375 (12-3-24) in the process. In Eastern's 3-2 win over Northern Colorado on Sept. 27, she also led the team in putaways with 19.
Cook led the team in kills in Eastern's match with No. 16 Hawai'i, contributing nine in that contest. She also had eight versus Wichita State.
"When she hits, she hits really hard, so that's a plus for us," interim head coach Irene Matlock said.
Cook has posted double-digit kill totals nine times so far this year, including in 4-of-5 and 6-of-8 matches. One of her best performances came against five-time defending Big Sky champion Sacramento State on the road, when she hit .409 (10-1-22).
Freshman Allison Reinstein has been a blocking force for the Eagles in 2007, as she is second on the team in that category with 0.91.
In Eastern's 3-2 win over Northern Colorado on Sept. 27, she had an incredible total of 11. That sum is the most attained by an Eagle since Keva Sonderen had 12 against Weber State on Nov. 9, 2002.
The 11 blocks are not only the most recorded by an Eagle this year, but is tied for the nine-highest total tallied by a Big Sky player.
She impressively had at least four blocks in six straight matches from Sept. 15-Oct. 2. For the season, Reinstein has posted 4+ blocks on 14 occasions.
Ponce Returns Home
Honolulu native Kristen Ponce has been a stabilizing force in the back row, as she has contributed 1.92 digs per game, the third-highest average on the team.
She also played well in all three matches to take place in her home town of Honolulu, Hawaii, at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Volleyball Classic from Sept. 6-8. 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."
Sophomore outside hitter Chelsea Ross had her best hitting performance of the season on Sept. 22, as she hit at a .406 clip (15-2-32) in Eastern Washington's dramatic 3-2 win at Montana. She also had an impressive outing against Portland State on Oct. 5, hitting .333 (6-2-12).
Ross' average of 2.40 kills per game is the third-highest on the team.
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.
Ross recorded double-digit kill totals nine times in 2007.
Unfortunately, she suffered a season-ending knee injury in Eastern's match against Montana on Oct. 25.
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.