Sometime after Eastern Washington University’s volleyball season ends, senior outside hitter Hayley Hills will formally take her place among the program’s all-time greats.
On the wall of the team’s locker room are pictures of four former Eagles who have been Big Sky Conference most valuable players: Keva Sonderen, Janelle Ruen, Kim Exner and Juli Argotow. Hills won the award last year and, if EWU finishes well, she has a chance to repeat, as Exner did in 1997-98. Hills’ toughest competition might be teammates Chenoa Coviare and Ashley Hamilton.
“Along with the team winning the conference last year, it’s an out-of-this-world feeling,” Hills said.
But there remains unfinished business for Hills and the Eagles, who are trying to repeat as Big Sky champs, capture an elusive conference tournament title and advance to the NCAAs for the first time since 2001. EWU, tied for first with Portland State, visits Montana State and Montana this weekend.
Hills came to EWU from Quesnel, British Columbia, where she played hockey and volleyball until time constraints forced a choice.
“I love hockey, it’s my favorite sport when I go back home,” she said. “My friends and I go play, all guys. Not too many of my girlfriends play. I started out in roller hockey to see if I liked it and moved on to ice hockey. I played until it conflicted with volleyball, probably my freshman year (of high school).”
Hills eventually played on a provincial volleyball team coached by one of EWU coach Miles Kydd’s closest friends.
“I asked him if anyone was flying under the radar and he said, ‘Well, yes, this one girl. She’s a really good athlete and she (touches) around 10 feet,’ ” Kydd said.
Hills played sparingly as a freshman. She had 491 kills as a sophomore, earning first-team All-Big Sky honors, and followed that with her MVP season of 490 kills. A quick glance at her stats this year suggests a drop in production. Closer inspection shows that Hills’ numbers are still solid, especially considering she’s playing with a painful shoulder injury that will require postseason surgery, and that the Eagles have a more balanced offense.
“Last year we really relied on her, but Ashley (Hamilton) is doing a lot better job of setting and running the offense from the 10-foot line,” Kydd said. “When you have two middles (Coviare and Sara Todorovich) that can score, there’s a lot less pressure on Hayley.”
Hills injured the labrum in her shoulder last spring, but it wasn’t diagnosed until this fall.
“It’s painful, but I refuse to let it hinder my senior year,” she said.
It obviously hasn’t limited her expectations of the team.
Making the NCAA tournament “is our biggest goal,” Hills said. “Ultimately, our goal is to make the top 16.”
Cougars back on road
No. 21 Washington State (16-4) begins the second half of the Pac-10 season with a winning record (5-4) for the first time since 1998. The Cougars returned to the Top 25 after defeating then-No. 4 Washington last Friday – their first win over UW since November 2002.
“I grew up on the other side of the state and I remember when I was little painting my fingernails every other one purple and yellow and I can’t think of why I did that now,” sophomore Meagan Ganzer, who led WSU with 15 kills, said after the win. “I had so much fun (Friday) and it is a great feeling.”
The Cougars are tied with California for fourth place. Arizona, Oregon and USC are one game behind. WSU visits last-place Arizona State and No. 18 Arizona this weekend.
No. 1 North Idaho College (26-4) can secure Region 18 tournament hosting rights with a win over No. 4 Salt Lake (23-5) at 7 tonight at Christianson Gym. … With a home win over New Mexico State tonight, Idaho (11-12, 7-3) would tie the Aggies for second place in the Western Athletic Conference. … Gonzaga (8-13, 3-4) opens the second half of the West Coast Conference season at Portland. GU plays five of seven remaining conference matches on the road.