Dec. 15, 2008
The 2008 season was both sweet and sour for the Eastern Washington University volleyball team. The sweet included an outstanding Big Sky Conference regular season, which resulted in a 12-4 record and the team’s first regular-season league title since the 2004 season and fourth in a seven-year span. Unfortunately, the sour came in a loss in the league’s championship match, leaving the Eagles one result short of a trip to the NCAA Championship.
Even though the Eagles fell short of its main goal in 2008, the team had a lot to be proud of this year. The team finished in the top three of the league standings for the 13th straight year and advanced to the Big Sky title match for the eighth time in nine tries. The Eagles also played in the semifinal round for the 12th consecutive season.
Eastern played well early in the season against a top-notch pre-conference schedule, including falling in a tight 3-2 road decision to No. 17 Colorado State, a team that would advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Then the Eagles turned it on come conference play started and ended the campaign on a hot streak, winning 12 of their last 14 contests.
After the outstanding 18-11 season, head coach Miles Kydd, in his first year at the helm of the Eagles, was named the Big Sky Coach of the Year. In doing so, he became the first rookie coach to take home COY honors since Cal State Northridge’s Lian Lu did so in his first season of 1996. He was also the initial Eagle coach to earn COY accolades since Wade Benson shared honors with Weber State’s Al Givens in 2006 and the first Eastern leader to attain outright COY honors since Pam Parks was honored in 1989.
Outside hitter Hayley Hills was named the Big Sky Player of the Year and also laid claim to four Big Sky Player of the Week awards. She became just the fifth Eagle to be named POY, following Keva Sonderen (2004), Janelle Ruen (2002), Kim Exner (1998 and 1997) and Juli Argotow (1989). Hills was also the initial Eastern player to earn POW honors four times in a single season since Exner earned POW accolades four times in 1998.
Hills finished the year with one of the best kills-per-sets averages in the country, as her 4.58 kps ranked her eighth among all NCAA Division I players. It was also the third-best in school history. Additionally, Hills helped Eastern as a team record 13.82 kps, the 27th-best average nationally and tops in the Big Sky.
Her kill high of 2008 was 30 in a 3-1 win over Idaho State on Oct. 23, which tied her own school record for kills in a match less than five sets long and was tied for the second-highest total in a contest of any length (Exner had 34 in a 3-2 loss to Portland on Sept. 6, 1996). It was also the most kills by any Division I player in a four-set match in 2008. Hills not only won her third POW honor that year with her performance in that match (Eastern’s only contest that week), but she also was named a CVU.com Top Performer of the Week.
Her best all-around performance came in a 3-1 win over Portland State on Oct. 10 when she had 20 kills and 21 digs, just the 18th 20-20 performance in Eagle history. She then finished her junior season with All-Big Sky Championship honors after she had 4.86 kps and 2.71 digs per set in Eastern’s two matches at the prestigious event.
She also became just the eighth Eagle in history to join the 1,000-kill club and currently ranks sixth with 1,053 following the conclusion of her junior season. Her career kps average of 3.99 currently places her second in that category.
Chenoa Coviare also had an impressive season, as she was named to the All-Big Sky second team. The sophomore middle blocker hit at a .241 clip (224-97-528), the 10th-best average in the league, and had 1.04 blocks per set, fourth in the Big Sky and 112th nationally.
Three Eagles attained All-Big Sky honorable mention accolades, Alysha Cook, Ashley Hamilton and Mandy Daniels. Cook was a solid all-around player for the Eagles, as she hit .214 (256-118-645) and had 0.77 bps. Hamilton had the fifth-highest assist average in the Big Sky (9.84) and helped Eastern as a team rank 21st nationally in aps (13.00) and lead the Big Sky in that statistical category.
Daniels had a record-setting season, as she set school marks in dps, both in a career (4.49) and in a single season (4.89). Daniels’ season-high total of 34 digs came in a pivotal 3-1 road win at Sacramento State on Nov. 21 that clinched for Eastern a share of the regular-season crown (which the Eagles would earn outright the next night). That dig total is the highest ever posted by an Eagle in a match less than five sets long and is tied for the third-best mark in a contest of any length. She earned CVU.com Top Performer of the Week accolades with her impressive outing in that match (Eastern’s only contest of that week).
Daniels would then have two of her best performances in Eastern’s most important matches of the year, the Big Sky semifinals and championship matches. In those two contests, she averaged 6.43 digs per set (16 in a 3-0 sweep of Weber State, 29 in a 3-1 loss to Portland State) to clinch the school record for single-season dps, which she had trailed entering that week (4.76 dps). Daniels also was named to the All-Big Sky Championship team following those two outstanding performances.
The senior libero also became the seventh Eastern player to record 1,000+ digs in a career, and she finished her career with 1,428, good for fourth all-time.
As a team, the Eagles had their best defensive performance on Aug. 30 in a dominating 3-0 sweep of Southeastern Conference-member Arkansas, holding the Razorbacks to a -.085 clip (16-24-94). That marked the first time EWU had held any opponent to a negative hitting percentage since a 3-0 win over St. Francis (N.Y.) on Sept. 1, 2006 (-.138). Later that day, Eastern rallied from 2-0 down to host Colorado State to force a fifth set before falling to the Rams. CSU would go a perfect 13-0 at home in 2008 to move its home winning streak to 28. Following their impressive weekend, Daniels and Hills were named to the All-Hilton Classic team.
The next weekend, Eastern Washington began laying claim to being the top team in the Inland Northwest with an impressive 3-1 win over Washington State (the Eagles would go 2-1 in 2008 versus WSU, Idaho and Gonzaga, the same record as Idaho had in round robin competition between those foes). At the tournament, the Eagles also defeated Notre Dame, a perennial national power in volleyball, by a 3-1 score. Hamilton and Hills earned All-Idaho Volleyball Classic honors.
The Eagles would start Big Sky play slow, recording a 3-3 league record before going on their impressive run of 12 wins in their last 14 matches of the season. The first three victories of that notable 14-match stretch were each special in their own ways.
First came a 3-1 victory over eventual Big Sky champion Portland State on Oct. 10, the first of two regular-season victories over the Vikings this year. Three days later came an exciting 3-2 road win over local rival Gonzaga, marking the initial time the Eagles had defeated the Bulldogs since 2005. Then, on Oct. 18, Eastern snapped a 10-match losing streak versus the six-time defending Big Sky champion Sacramento State, defeating the Hornets in another five-set contest.
Three more wins moved the winning streak to six before the Eagles dropped a 3-0 road decision to Montana. Then Eastern Washington rattled off another half dozen victories. This time it was the last four that were especially memorable.
On Nov. 8, the Eagles swept Northern Colorado in dominating fashion, hitting .416 (49-7-101) in the process, their best hitting percentage for an Eastern team since a 3-0 win over St. Francis on Sept. 1, 2006 (.569). The Bears had entered the evening in first place in the Big Sky standings. Another dominating victory came on the road against Portland State a week later to move the Eagles into a first-place tie with the Vikings with one match to play.
That set the stage for a memorable night in Sacramento, Calif., when the Eagles would outlast the Hornets 3-1 on Nov. 21 to clinch at least a share of the regular-season crown. An incredible fourth set put a cap on the evening, and the Big Sky season for the Eagles, as the teams tied 26 different times before EWU scored the final two points of an incredible 36-34 set. Eastern Washington claimed the outright regular-season title the next night when Sacramento State swept Portland State.
Eastern Washington then kept its hot streak going with a sweep of Weber State in the Big Sky semifinals, moving to the league’s championship match for the eighth time in the past nine years. Unfortunately, the run would come to an end the following evening when the home-standing Portland State Vikings outlasted the Eagles 3-1 to claim the Big Sky championship for 2008.
Even though the Eagles are understandably not satisfied with falling just short of the Big Sky title, the team had an outstanding season in a number of ways and now look to build on 2008, as the team begins preparations for the 2009 campaign.