Eastern Washington University volleyball coach Michael King has 14 reasons to believe the best is yet to come.
EWU’s roster features 14 underclassmen and only one senior. The young Eagles (10-7, 5-3 Big Sky) have climbed to third in the North Division and are positioned to earn one of the eight spots in the conference tournament.
The Eagles defeated Idaho in five sets last week for the program’s first win in Moscow since 2005. They recently ended defending Big Sky champion Northern Arizona’s streak of 21 straight conference wins.
“There are nights where our players go off and hit for big numbers, dig for high numbers,” King said. “The bright side is we can do it and they’re gaining that experience and that respect.
“The dark cloud is they still have those moments of what I consider to be part of the learning process, but we’re having less and less of those.”
EWU’s firepower at the net is supplied by sophomores Ka’iulani Ahuna, Jessica Gilbert, Kimberly Brinkworth and Taylor Larsen, a Colfax High product.; juniors Ashley Seiler (Cheney High) and Chloe Weber; and freshman Katie Mahoney. Sophomore Ashlee Vaoifi leads the team in digs with 186.
Ahuna recently earned EWU’s first conference offensive player of the week award since 2013.
Senior setter Sophie Miller provides leadership.
“When the team needs a push, she certainly knows how to do that,” King said. “When the team needs to stop and take a breath, she knows how to calm them down and redirect them. She does what’s needed.”
The Eagles, who visit Portland State and Sacramento State this week, lead the conference in opponent hitting percentage (.144) and rank second in kills (13.94 per set).
Cougars slip to second
Washington State has dropped three straight matches, including a pair of five-setters against visiting Colorado and Utah last week.
The 18th-ranked Cougars (15-5, 5-3) are still in the thick of the Pac-12 race. No. 7 Washington is 6-2, followed by a seven-team logjam at 5-3.
“I think we need to learn to get better mentally,” said coach Jen Greeny, whose team visits Arizona State on Wednesday and Arizona on Friday. “Be more aggressive, stay aggressive consistently throughout. Just knowing that every team every single night is going to be giving us their best shot, and we have to learn how to deal with that.”
Pirates back on top
Whitworth (15-5, 9-1 Northwest Conference) had question marks with the graduation of five seniors but they’re back in their usual spot atop the conference. Whitworth’s lone NWC loss was to second-place Puget Sound (13-5, 8-2).
“We brought in a good recruiting class and in addition the girls that didn’t play but were on the roster had a great year of development,” said coach Kati Bodecker, who has guided Whitworth to two straight NWC championships.
Freshman Emiko Kahler has a team-high 197 kills, followed by returning standouts Cassandra Mendoza (191) and Brenna Bruil (178). Lauren Budde, who played in just 10 matches last season, is next at 159. Taylor Wicht, who saw limited time last season, is fourth in the NWC with 330 digs.
Sophomore setter Erin White, who didn’t see any time last season, directs an offense that leads the NWC in hitting percentage, kills and assists.
“We had a smaller group in the offseason because we graduated five seniors so they got a ton of reps,” Bodecker said. “We also shifted our focus and worked on offensive efficiency. We spent a lot of time running in-system, serve-receive plays and our hitters got a lot of reps.”
Gonzaga (11-7, 4-4 WCC) entertains Portland on Saturday. … Idaho (7-13, 2-6 Big Sky) has dropped five of six heading into road matches against Sacramento State and Portland State. … North Idaho College (8-2) and Community Colleges of Spokane (8-2) are chasing Walla Walla (9-0) in the NWAC East Division. NIC, which won the first meeting in four sets, entertains CCS next week.
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