There is no coaching manual equipped with a chapter dealing with the levels of adversity encountered by the Eastern Washington University volleyball team.
Interim head coach Lisa Westlake has attempted to provide stability, routine and direction.
“One thing I’ve learned about these girls is they’re fighters,” Westlake said. “It’s been a journey, but it’s a good one right now. All you can ask is that they work hard and they’re doing that.”
EWU was picked to finish third in the Big Sky but lost veteran setters Laney Brown to a toe injury in preseason practice and Lindsay Niemeier to a torn ACL in the season opener. Head coach Miles Kydd resigned last week, nine days after an alleged sexual assault of a freshman volleyball player by suspended EWU football player Dalis Bruce.
Westlake, in her fifth year in the program, kept practice drills exactly the same for the first two days to keep the players in a familiar routine. On Friday, prior to playing in the Gonzaga Invitational, she held a team meeting.
“I told them my philosophies, what I’m expecting for the year and how I envisioned this going,” she said. “I’m not really doing much differently – we’re not changing systems or personnel. I did change the culture in practice a little in terms of my approach. But my big thing is just keeping consistency for the girls and one of the biggest tasks I have is making sure the transition goes smoothly for them.”
It’s yet to show up in the win column, but EWU did take one game off tournament champion South Dakota State, middle blocker Talia Fermantez earned all-tournament honors and the team’s hitting percentages climbed nearly 100 points from previous matches.
“I haven’t had to worry about (players getting down) at all,” Westlake said. “We’ve had talks about life and volleyball. Anyone our age knows you just have to put one foot in front of the other. That’s what I try to teach my own kids.”
Without Niemeier and Brown, the Eagles turned to Ashley Wright, who started 42 matches the last two years as an outside hitter but has virtually no experience as a setter.
“It’s like being the quarterback,” said Westlake, who was a setter at Oregon. “She has great hands and she’s a great leader, and that’s an intangible you need for that position. Last weekend I was telling her stuff that maybe setters don’t do until after six months of training.”
The Eagles (0-7) visit Boise State tonight and play in the Iowa State Challenge this weekend, opening up against No. 18 Iowa State. There’s a chance Brown might play in the tournament after practicing Tuesday.
North Idaho College, ranked 12th in the preseason, is off to a 7-0 start with wins over No. 5 Western Wyoming and No. 6 Western Nebraska and NAIA No. 21 Carroll College. The Cardinals face No. 3 Central Florida, which defeated NIC in the opening round of the 2011 NJCAA Tournament, on Friday at the College of Southern Idaho Tournament in Twin Falls. … Community Colleges of Spokane (3-1) opens its home and NWAACC East schedule with a showdown against Walla Walla (3-1) tonight at 6. . … Whitworth (1-2) has four matches in three days at its Whit Classic, beginning with Walla Walla University at 7 p.m. Thursday. … The WCC has several impressive non-conference wins, including BYU knocking off No. 14 Tennessee and No. 24 Colorado State, and San Francisco defeating No. 25 Cal. Pepperdine is ranked 12th, San Diego 17th and BYU 21st.