Flagstaff, Ariz. – The Eastern Washington University volleyball team saw its season end in heartbreaking fashion Thursday afternoon, Nov. 19, as Idaho State won the final three sets to record a five-set victory and eliminate the Eagles from the 2015 Big Sky Conference Tournament.
Despite the tough setback, EWU had one of its best seasons in recent memory this year. Eastern returned to the conference tournament after a four-year absence and started off Big Sky play with a 7-0 record, its best start since 2003.
"One of the things I told the team in the locker room was that just because we lost today, it doesn't take away from the great things we did this year," said EWU head coach Michael King. "Starting conference play off 7-0 was impressive, especially with the coaching change. We had some really good wins, and I thought we beat some really good teams this year. Hopefully, this will bring a new confidence to our program because we now know we can compete at this level."
Eastern concludes its 2015 campaign with a 14-14 overall record while Idaho State improves to 22-9 and advances to the semifinals and a date with Idaho tomorrow, Nov. 20.
The Eagles played some of their best volleyball of the season in the first two sets, winning both to take a 2-0 lead into intermission. Things changed in the third frame as a veteran ISU team came out determined to keep its season alive. The Bengals won the third set, 25-13, before taking the fourth frame, 25-13, to send the match to a decisive fifth set.
Eastern hit .234 over the first two sets, committing just eight attack errors while holding Idaho State to a .111 hitting percentage in that span. The ensuing two frames were a different story as the Eagles hit just .036 as a team while the Bengals swung at a .385 clip.
Idaho State maintained its momentum in the fifth set, opening up an 8-3 lead at the turn before taking a 12-4 advantage late, forcing the Eagles to call timeout. Eastern responded with five of the next six points to pull to within four, 13-9, but the Bengals scored the final points of the set to close out the come-from-behind victory.
Senior Ana Jakovljevic led EWU with 12 kills and added a team-high 12 digs, good for her sixth double-double of the season.
Senior Allie Schumacher added 11 kills, hitting .257 (11-2-35) to go along with seven digs and five blocks.
Freshman Jessica Gilbert chipped in with eight kills on 19 swings and 11 digs.
Eastern hit .152 for the match compared to a .245 clip for Idaho State.
The Eagles committed fewer errors on the day, finishing with 22 attack errors to the Bengals' 27 and nine service errors to Idaho State's 13 miscues from behind the service line.
Quoting Coach King
"To me, the difference between the first two sets and the last three came down to a couple of things. We got away from our serving strategy, and we didn't handle the ball very well. Our struggles to pass led to a lack of success offensively, and that gave Idaho State some momentum. They started playing with a lot of energy, and we didn't know how to respond to that.
"Offensively, we couldn't find our rhythm. The ball handling and the setting wasn't quite clicking, and I thought we started to play with fear versus playing with confidence. Congratulations to Idaho State for a solid match."
EWU lost for the first time this season when winning the first two sets. The Eagles were a perfect 10-0 this year when taking the opening two frames entering today's match.
Schumacher finishes her EWU career with 1,013 career kills, good for ninth all-time on Eastern's NCAA Division I career kills list. She recorded double-digit kills in 50 career matches.
Ensrud leaves Eastern with 1,169 career digs, good for sixth all-time on the Eagles' NCAA DI career digs list. She recorded double-digit digs in 51 career matches.
The Eagles say goodbye to four seniors and impact players in Ensrud, Jakovljevic, Schumacher and Wesley, leaving open spots at libero, outside hitter and middle blocker. Eastern returns 15 players from this year's squad, including starters in Gilbert, Rigoni and sophomore Chloe Weber.