November 25, 2008

Eastern Washington Plays for Title

Nov. 25, 2008

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Fresh off a Big Sky Conference outright regular-season title, the Eastern Washington University volleyball team now looks ahead to the Big Sky Championship this weekend. The Eagles, the top seed, take on either No. 4 Montana or No. 5 Weber State at 5:30 p.m. on Friday (Nov. 28) in a semifinal. The title match is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 29). All Championship matches may be viewed free of charge at www.bigskytv.org.

On Friday (Nov. 21), the Eagles toppled Sacramento State in a dramatic road contest, 25-19, 23-25, 25-20, 36-34, to clinch at least a share of the Big Sky's regular-season title, which was won outright the next night when the Hornets dispatched Portland State in dominating fashion, 25-18, 25-20, 25-12.

In the Eastern-Sacramento State match, Mandy Daniels had 34 digs, tied for the second-highest total in EWU history, while Hayley Hills contributed 25 kills and hit .352 (25-6-54). Hills became just the eighth Eagle to enter the 1,000-kill club with her sixth putaway of the evening. She also earned Big Sky Player of the Week accolades for her impressive performance, the fourth time she has done so this season.

Six days prior, Eastern Washington had a convincing road win over Portland State, 25-19, 25-21, 25-15, to tie the Vikings for first place with a match to play. In that contest, Eastern impressively out-dug Portland State 63-45; the Vikings currently rank 12th in the NCAA Division I ranks in digs per set with 17.40. Daniels led the way with 24 digs, an especially impressive number considering the match went just three sets, while Jacque Brown had an outstanding defensive performance herself with 17.

"Our goals this year have been to go undefeated at home (9-0), split our road matches (in the Big Sky, 4-4), win the Big Sky's regular-season title and the next one is coming up, winning the tournament championship," head coach Miles Kydd said. "We are trying not to get ahead of ourselves, and we definitely do not want to do anything different (this weekend). If we play like we are capable of and don't try to do something special, we'll be fine."

Eastern Washington (17-10, 12-4 BSC), winners of 11-of-12 matches, is the top seed in the Championship. Portland State (18-8, 11-5 BSC) is the No. 2 seed, while Northern Colorado (16-9, 10-6 BSC) claimed the third seed. Following Montana (14-12, 10-6 BSC) and Weber State (20-12, 9-7 BSC) is Sacramento State (10-22, 8-8 BSC), the six-time defending league champion.

Portland State is hosting the Championship by virtue of its regular-season title a year ago. As the 2008 regular-season champions, Eastern Washington will play host to the 2009 event.

Hills Earns POW Honors for Fourth Time, Attains Entry into 1,000-Kill Club                                   
Hayley Hills attained Big Sky Conference Player of the Week accolades on Monday (Nov. 24) after helping Eastern Washington to a 3-1 road victory over Sacramento State on Friday (Nov. 21). In that pivotal match, she tallied 25 kills and hit .352 (25-6-54), an especially impressive hitting percentage considering the 54 swings she took. In addition, Hills had 13 assists, three blocks, three assists and a service ace in the match.

The junior has now earned POW honors four times this year, becoming the first Eagle to do so since Kim Exner earned it four times in 1998.

In fact, 2008 marks the first year the Eagles as a team have earned Big Sky POW accolades four times in a single season since the 2004 campaign, when Lizzy Mellor won it twice and Deanna Albers and Ashley Jensen did so once apiece.

Hills' sixth kill in the Sacramento State match entered her into the prestigious 1,000-kill club, something only seven previous Eagles have done. Later in the match, she moved into seventh place in Eagle history in career kills. She currently has 1,019 and is just 27 behind the sixth spot and 58 from fifth.

The outside hitter has posted five of the six highest kill totals in the Big Sky Conference so far in 2008.

Her 30 kills in a 3-1 win over Idaho State on Oct. 23 is the most tallied by any NCAA Division I player in a four-set match so far in 2008. It also was just four shy of the Eastern Washington school record (34, held by Kim Exner and achieved against Portland on Sept. 6, 1996).

The 30-kill mark also tied the school record for kills in a four-set match, which she set with 30 against the Bengals the year before, on Sept. 15, 2007. Those are also tied for the second-most kills posted by an Eagle in a match of any length.

Hills' season average of 4.56 kills per set not only leads all Big Sky players, but also ranks her eighth among NCAA Division I players. It is currently the third-highest average in Eagle history.

Hills' career average of 3.96 kills per set currently places her second in Eagle history in that category. Incredibly, she has increased her career average from 3.59 entering the season when the NCAA lowered the point totals needed to win a set from 30 to 25.

That career average also currently ranks her ninth all-time in Big Sky history.   

"We are not going to win if just Hayley is playing well, and we need to keep contributions from other players, but there is no doubt Hayley is playing at a high level," head coach Miles Kydd said.

The three previous times the outside hitter earned Big Sky POW accolades came on Oct. 25, Oct. 13 and Sept. 29.

The third occurrence saw Hills average 5.73 kills per set, hit .310 (63-18-145) and contribute 2.55 digs per set, second on the team in that category behind libero Mandy Daniels. She was also named a Top Performer on a national level by CVU.com for her performances that week.

The second time she earned the POW award, Hills had a relatively rare 20-20 night in the week's only match, compiling 20 kills and 21 digs in a 3-1 defeat of then-first-place Portland State.

She became just the 18th Eagle in history to have 20+ kills and digs in the same match, the eighth to do so in a match just three or four sets long. The dig total is a career high.

"Her defense is starting to come along," Kydd said at the time. "We have worked with her on staying engaged on defense, and she's starting to do that better."

The first time, she hit .431 (41-10-72) and had 5.86 kills and 3.14 digs per set in matches with Montana State and Montana.

The first weekend of the season, Hills earned mention to the All-Tournament team at the Hilton Classic. She averaged 3.36 kills per set in Eastern's three contests that week.

Hills then moved her impressive streak of being named to All-Tournament teams to five, dating to 2007, after she attained accolades at the Idaho Volleyball Classic on Sept. 6.

Daniels Enters Top-Five List                                  
Senior libero Mandy Daniels hit and surpassed the 1,000-dig mark the first week of the season and is now in the No. 4 spot on the EWU all-time career digs chart with 1,383. She became just the seventh Eagle in history to reach the 1,000-dig milestone.

Also, she possesses the 16th spot in Big Sky history. She is 38 away from 15th, 57 from 14th and 58 from 13th.

On Friday (Nov. 21) in a 3-1 road win over Sacramento State, Daniels had 34 digs, tied for the second-most in school history and the highest total ever reached by an Eagle in a four-set contest. It was also a career high for the senior for a match of any length.

In clutch manner, she had 10 of her digs from the time the teams were tied in set four 25-25 until the Eagles pulled out the 36-34 win.

"I have always said that Mandy has such a high panic point; it takes a lot for her to get panicked in a match," head coach Miles Kydd said. "When push comes to shove, she lets her instincts take over. She has really good instincts."

The 34 digs is the 12th-most by any NCAA Division I player in a four-set match and is the fifth-highest total by a Big Sky player in a contest of any length.

She earned CVU.com Top Performer accolades for her performance in that match.

Compiling 30 in Eastern's 3-2 loss to No. 17 Colorado State on Aug. 30 pushed her career sum past 1,000 to 1,017. That match total is tied for the 10th-highest by any Big Sky Conference player in 2008 and was the most by an Eagle since she had 33 against Sacramento State on Nov. 16, 2007.

She then surpassed that dig total when she had 31 in EWU's 3-1 win over Montana on Sept. 27. That sum is tied for the eighth-most by a Big Sky player this year.

The 31 digs also are the fourth-most ever recorded by an Eagle in a four-set match.

After a quality first weekend of play, Daniels earned mention to the Hilton Classic's All-Tournament team. That week, she averaged 5.27 digs per set.

Daniels is on pace to set the school record for career digs per set, as her current average of 4.45 is well ahead of Verdoljak's 3.95 (2002-04). That average is also on pace to place her fourth all-time in Big Sky history.

It is especially impressive that she has actually improved her digs per set average after the NCAA lowered the point totals needed to win a set from 30 to 25 prior to the 2008 season (entering 2008, Daniels' career average was 4.32).

She currently ranks third in the Big Sky and 42nd among 2008 NCAA Division I players in digs per set.

Ashley Assists Anyone and Everyone 
         
Setter Ashley Hamilton has had an impressive season setting up Eastern hitters for kills. So far in 2008, she is averaging 9.80 assists per set, the fifth-highest average among Big Sky Conference players and 109th-best among all NCAA Division I players. She is also helping the team as a whole rank 24th nationally with 12.94 assists per set.

Hamilton earned All-Idaho Volleyball Classic honors the second week of the season. For the weekend's three matches, she averaged 11.00 assists per set and contributed 19 digs, seven kills, six blocks and three service aces.

On Sept. 18, in a 3-2 road win over Weber State, she had 59 assists, the fourth-highest total by any Big Sky Conference player so far in 2008.

Then, versus Montana State and Montana on Sept. 25 and 27, respectively, she not only contributed 11.14 assists per set, but was also an intimidating attacking force herself, as she hit at a .480 clip (14-2-25). Hamilton is hitting at a .326 clip (96-23-224) this year.

"Her attack is a big deal for us, because it really messes with the other team," head coach Miles Kydd said. "If you don't dedicate a blocker to her, you're in trouble, but if you do, she sets another hitter and you're in trouble again."

Chenoa Shoots Into Block Rankings     
        
Chenoa Coviare has been an intimidating presence at the net this year, as evidenced by her 1.05 blocks per set, an average that ranks her fourth in the Big Sky Conference and 106th among NCAA Division I players.

Over the past 13 matches, she has contributed an impressive 1.28 blocks per set (60 blocks in 47 sets).

"(Montana's) Jamie Thibeault is one of the best middles in the conference, and Chenoa was swing-for-swing with her," head coach Miles Kydd said. "She played an outstanding match on Saturday (Sept. 27), and if she continues to play at that high level, we'll be fine."

Getting Behind the Team 800 Miles Away 
             
Immediately following Eastern Washington's women's basketball team defeat of San Francisco 80-70 on Friday (Nov. 21), about 30 people gathered around a computer which was showing the live video feed of the fourth set of the volleyball team's match at Sacramento State.

What was expected to be a quick conclusion to that set, and possibly the match, was far from the case, as the teams recorded tie scores at every number from 23 through 34 before Eastern pulled out the dramatic 36-34 set and 3-1 match victory.

The Eagle fans at Reese Court, doing their best to show support for the players who were more than 800 miles away battling for a regular-season title, even started rhythmically clapping near the end of the set when Eastern had match points.

Among Nation's Best in Attendance              
The Eastern Washington volleyball team currently ranks 38th among NCAA Division I teams in average attendance at 965. The Eagles are 14th among teams from non-BCS conferences.

Four home crowds this year surpassed the 1,000 mark with the high mark coming in the home opener on Sept. 25, a 3-0 win over Montana State (1,282).

Eastern Washington recorded a perfect 9-0 record in home contests in 2008.

The Eagles have ranked in the top 40 in attendance in 10 of the past 11 years.

Get Off! Get Off!   
                                     
Eastern Washington threw a pair of monkeys off its back within a week in mid-October.

The Eagles first beat local rival Gonzaga 25-14, 25-20, 15-25, 24-26, 15-11 on Oct. 13 to snap a two-match, two-year losing streak to the Bulldogs and earn their first win over GU since a 3-0 victory on Oct. 18, 2005.

Then, five days later, EWU earned its first win over six-time defending Big Sky Conference champion Sacramento State 25-17, 16-25, 22-25, 27-25, 15-12, since a 3-1 victory on Nov. 4, 2004. That ended a run of 10 straight wins by the Hornets versus Eastern.

However, when head coach Miles Kydd was told about those streaks, he stated that his focus was, and is, not on the past.

"I didn't know about those (streaks)," Kydd said. "For us, Sacramento State is another league match, one we feel we should win. Gonzaga is a regional rival, so that is an important match just for the sake we want to be considered the top team in the Inland Northwest." (in head-to-head matches between EWU, Gonzaga, Washington State and Idaho in 2008, the Eagles and Idaho went 2-1, while the Bulldogs and Cougars finished 1-2).

Trio Earns All-Tournament Honors    
           
A trio of Eagles has earned All-Tournament honors in 2008.

At the Idaho Volleyball Classic, played from Sept. 5-6, Ashley Hamilton and Hayley Hills earned mention to the team.

The first tournament of the year, the Hilton Classic from Aug. 29-30, saw both Mandy Daniels and Hills attain All-Tournament accolades.

Holding the `Backs to Negative Numbers      
On Aug. 30, Eastern Washington dominated Arkansas in a 25-23, 25-12, 25-14 win, holding the Razorbacks to a -.085 hitting percentage. That marked the first time EWU has held an opponent to a negative hitting percentage since a 3-0 win over St. Francis (N.Y.) on Sept. 1, 2006.

Kydd Takes over Reigns   
                                
The 2008 Eastern Washington Eagles are being led by first-year head coach Miles Kydd.

Kydd, however, is no stranger to the program, as he spent the past four years as the team's assistant coach.

He also brings to the position several years of experience at the international level as well as at the collegiate level from his native Canada.

Joining him on the coaching staff is Lisa Westlake, a highly-respected mind in the sport of volleyball, as well as Wes Walker, who has worked with the Eagles the past couple years as a volunteer assistant coach.

New NCAA Rules for 2008                      
The term "game" has been changed to "set." In other words, a team needs to win three sets to claim a match. Volleyball throughout the world has referred to "sets" rather than "games" for the past several years.

The number of points required to win sets 1-4 is now 25. From 2001-07, it was 30. Rally scoring remains in effect; prior to 2001, the serving team was the only one allowed to tally a point on any single rally. The fifth set will also remain rally scoring, played to 15 points. All sets must still be won by at least two points.

This rule change was enacted to increase focus and excitement levels, from both players and spectators, throughout each set. International and Olympic volleyball has used 25-point sets since moving to the rally-scoring system in 1999.

As a result, the number of substitutions allowed for each team per set has been decreased from 15 to 12.

Where Will the Team Start 2009? 
                 
With its season-opening contest on Aug. 29 with Denver in Fort Collins, Colo., the Eastern Washington Eagles will have now opened the past 10 seasons (1999-2008) in 10 different districts/states (in chronological order from 1999: District of Columbia, Michigan, Maine, Florida, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Kansas, Arizona and Colorado).

Eagles Place Fourth in Preseason Poll  
            
The Eastern Washington Eagles were selected fourth in the Big Sky Conference's preseason poll. Portland State placed first and was followed, in order, by Sacramento State, Weber State, EWU, Northern Colorado, Montana, Northern Arizona, Idaho State and Montana State.

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