Nov. 26, 2008
By Keenan Bowen, EWU Sports Information
Most EWU students won't be getting ready to play volleyball over the Thanksgiving break, let alone any physical activity, as they gorge on turkey.
Not the Eastern Washington University women's volleyball team, led by junior outside hitter Hayley Hills. On Thursday (Nov. 27), they head over to Portland, Ore., for the Big Sky Conference Championship with a trip to the NCAA Championship on the line.
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 contest is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 29). All Championship matches may be viewed free of charge at www.bigskytv.org.
After arriving on campus after graduating from Correlieu Secondary in Quesnel, B.C., Hills saw playing time right away and went on to finish the season with a .270 hitting percentage. During her sophomore campaign last season, she broke out and made the All-Big Sky Conference first team. Hills averaged 4.38 kills per set and brought her career kill total to 491, which was good for fourth all-time at the time.
Hills has been nearly unstoppable this season at outside hitter. She has posted five of the six highest kill totals in the Big Sky Conference so far in 2008 and has earned four Big Sky Player of the Week honors during the season.
She posted 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.
Q: What is the team's mindset heading into the Big Sky Championship?
A: "We're really anxious to play this weekend. All we have to do is beat the same teams we already beat for the Big Sky (regular-season) title, but we can't underestimate any of the other teams. It'll be a tough weekend, but we know we can do it."
Q: What are your thoughts on your records here at EWU?
A: "It's really exciting that I'm breaking records and setting new ones, but I wouldn't be anywhere if it wasn't for the team. Volleyball is not a one-player sport, it's a team sport."
Q: You are ranked eighth among Division I players in kills per set - how does that feel?
A: "It feels awesome. It's amazing to be able to say that I'm top 10 in Division I. But I always expect more of myself, so my goal is to make top five my senior year."
Q: You grew up in a small town in British Columbia - was there an adjustment period after you arrived at Eastern?
A: "There was a huge adjustment period. I came from a small high school team that played other small teams, and I wasn't used to having competition from other girls. Then when I came to Eastern, all of a sudden I was getting blocked and getting dug, and that had never happened before. I knew I had to change my game. But I'm thankful for everything I have learned, because it's made me a better player."
Q: How many Eagle supporters do you expect to accompany the team at the Big Sky Championship?
A: "I know a bunch of our girls' families are coming to watch. Some of us have a few friends that live near Portland that will be coming out. And I found out earlier this week that some of our Super Fans are going to come down for it, so that's really exciting. I just hope the Portland State fans can keep up with ours!"
Q: Your win over Sac State on Friday was an important one - how do you feel after winning the Big Sky outright?
A: "Winning the title outright feels much better than having the same record as another team. We started the season a little rocky, but we have so much talent on our team that we just needed to find a way to put it all together, and I think the last five matches have been a good example of us doing that."
Q: What was your reaction when you found out Sac State swept Portland State to give EWU sole possession of the regular-season crown?
A: "I was so happy! Our whole team was happy. It's great to say that we have the best record in the Big Sky."
Q: Support has been growing for the program - what does that mean to the team?
A: "We love how much support we get from our fans. The crowds are getting bigger and bigger every year. We love knowing that we have so many people behind us and supporting us. And of course there are our Super Fans, who are amazing and we appreciate them greatly. We have the best fan base in the conference hands down."
Q: What are your goals for after your Eastern career, on and off the court?
A: "After I graduate, I want to continue playing volleyball. I love beach volleyball and I want to give that a shot. I haven't really given much thought to what my plans are after I'm finished volleyball; hopefully my communications degree will take care of me!"
Q: Have you overcome any challenges during your volleyball career?
A: "There's always minor injuries, but I would have to say the biggest challenge I have overcome happened my freshman and sophomore years. I had an awful skin problem that was caused by sweat and high body temperature, so volleyball didn't help it much. But with the help from a lot of people here at Eastern, I got through it!"
Q: If you were stranded on an island and could have one teammate with you, who would it be and why?
A: "A couple girls come to my mind, but if I had to choose one ... I would have to say Mandy. Mandy and I have solved a lot of problems together this year, and we know that we can depend on each other. We always make the best of bad situations, and we definitely know how to keep each other amused. Plus, if it was a tropical island, I know Mandy wouldn't mind lying on the beach all day!"
Q: Who have been the most influential people in your playing career?
A: "My family has been a huge support factor for me and my volleyball career. My mom and dad always did what they needed to get me to camps, tournaments, try-outs. That helped me so much and I'm so grateful for everything they have done and are still doing for me. I have had a lot of coaches in my career, but I would say that Miles has been the most influential. He has made me a better player because he knows how to relate to me. He always expects more of me, which I do as well, so it's nice to have a coach that's on the same page as the player."
Q: What do you like most about volleyball?
A: "I just love the game. I'm a very competitive person, and I enjoy the challenge of playing other teams. And there's no better feeling than winning."