Wade Benson’s second stint as Eastern Washington University’s volleyball coach is off to a solid start.
The Eagles are 3-4, nothing that will prompt throwing a parade but it’s a promising beginning to the season after last year’s squad opened 0-22. EWU has won three of its last five matches, including a 3-1 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday.
“I’m definitely happy so far,” said Benson, who coached EWU to six 20-win seasons and three Big Sky Conference titles from 2000-06. “We’ve played really well a couple of times. I don’t think we’ve played a poor match yet. We just haven’t sustained a high level for long enough to beat a good team.
“We’ve kind of beaten most of the teams that are even with us, and you’re dealing with some mental adjustments from last year, regardless of what anybody says.”
Benson left EWU after the 2006 season for Auburn. He was promoted to head coach after one season as an assistant. His first team went 6-25 but his last team in 2010 had 21 wins and earned the program’s first NCAA tournament berth. He left college coaching and spent the last two years in Miramar Beach, Fla.
“I was born in Clearwater (Fla.) and my dad was originally from Memphis,” he said. “Going to Auburn was kind of neat from a family perspective and checking out the quote-end quote big time.
“I was definitely comfortable in Florida and we were doing really well as a family and kind of living the dream. When you live in a resort area you get spread thin to make ends meet so you end up doing two, three, four things. I owned a surf and beach company, ran a club volleyball team, gave lessons and my wife coached at the high school. We were kind of all over the place.”
Now he’s back in a familiar place in Cheney, where the job hasn’t changed much since his first tour of duty.
“I like our coaching staff and the players,” Benson said. “I think we have good team unity and they’re a hard-working group. We have an administration that cares. How can you not like those things?”
Benson isn’t sure what to expect from Big Sky teams when the conference season begins Sept. 19. First, though, EWU has a four-match week, beginning with San Jose State on Wednesday and matches against UC-Santa Barbara, No. 9 San Diego and No. 1 USC at a tournament this weekend in San Diego.
“Let’s see if we can put some runs together against the better teams and if we can stop some of their runs,” Benson said. “And let’s grow from the experience.”
Cougs rolling early
Washington State is off to a 7-0 start for the first time since 2009 when it opened with 11 consecutive wins and made the program’s last trip to the NCAA tournament.
WSU went 4-0 during the weekend to win the Cougar Challenge in Pullman. Ver’Leea Hardaway was named MVP and Jaicee Harris made the all-tournament team.
“I thought we did really well, especially offensively,” said coach Jen Greeny, whose team is hitting nearly .300. “We’ve been thinking one weekend at a time so to be 7-0 at this point is great and going into two more weekends of preseason before we start Pac-12 play will be great.”
The Cougars have dropped just four sets, all to opponents with losing records. They’ve swept three foes with winning marks. WSU faces three teams with a combined record of 4-18 at the Sam Houston Invitational this weekend.
Gonzaga lost to unbeaten Arizona State (6-0) in the title match of the Gonzaga Invitational. The Bulldogs (2-4) had straight-set wins over UNLV and Seattle. Meredith Crenshaw and Savannah Blinn earned all-tournament honors for the Bulldogs, who face Montana State on Friday at the Bobcat Classic. GU coach Dave Gantt was MSU’s head coach from 1994-2002. …Idaho’s Jessica Hastriter made the all-tournament team but the Vandals (3-4) dropped all three matches at Northern Arizona’s Fiesta Bowl tournament. … WSU senior Camryn Irwin has moved past volunteer coach Kali Surplus Gesser into fifth place on the school’s career assists list. Irwin has 2,605 career assists. … EWU sophomore outside hitter Allie Schumacher is the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week. She had 51 kills in four matches, 16 in a victory over Texas Tech. … WSU’s Kyra Holt is the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. She had 51 kills in four WSU wins.