The moment Eastern Washington University volleyball coach Pamela Parks saw the Gonzaga team Tuesday night - all nine players - she knew the Bulldogs were going to give her favored Eagles a tough match.
Gonzaga was playing short-handed because just one day earlier it had “mutually agreed” that four players would leave the team.
In their absence, the remaining Bulldogs banded together and forced a five-game match before falling to the Eagles after a rally-scoring fifth game 13-15, 15-0, 14-16, 15-6, 15-9 at Cheney. It was the third time the Eagles went the distance this season, winning all three times.
“Any time things like that happen and the numbers get smaller, they tend to all band together,” said Parks, whose team improved to 17-3. “You see it happen all the time.”
Gonzaga coach Eva Windlin-Jansen has seen something different happen all the time. The Bulldogs (8-15) always manage to play well in spurts, but rarely are they able to put away an opponent. In six five-game matches this season, Gonzaga is 2-4.
“I don’t think we’re that bad, actually. We’re a decent team if we could put three games together that are reasonable. But right now, we can’t,” Windlin-Jansen said.
“Overall it wasn’t a bad match, especially with all that was going on this week.”
The players who are off the team are sophomore Sami Schinell, freshmen Erinn Kelly and Jo Dockstader and junior Sharee Coad. Aside from a few starts from Kelly, the players had reserve roles.
But the core of the team is still in place, and at times, it played like it against the Eagles.
“Except for game 2, which you can throw away, we played well,” Windlin-Jansen said.
Gonzaga, losers of six straight, hit .447 percent in the first game to Eastern’s .180. But in the second game, Eastern came back on .253 hitting to GU’s .205. The Eagles most feared player, middle blocker Kim Exner, landed six of her match-high 24 kills in game 2. Exner, averaging 4.75 kills per game, hit .422 in the match.
In the third game, Eastern trailed by as much as 6-1 and as late as 13-12. But after GU tied the game at 14, it took a lead on a killing error by Eastern’s Lora Botha and won the game on the next point when Lynn Robison’s third hit fell weak into the net.
“They beat us a lot on deep balls off our back-row attack,” said Parks, whose Eagles received four votes in this week’s USA Today/AVCA Top 25 poll. “But I never really had any doubt that we were going to pull it out.”
After tying the match at 2-2 in games, Eastern never trailed in the fifth game. Gonzaga pulled to within 10-7 when Diana Pascua’s kill bounded off a diving Tarah Pond, but that was as close as it would get.Eastern won the 2 hour, 6 minute match when Murdock hit Exner’s serve into the net.