By Calvin Jensen
The 15th ranked USU Eastern women’s volleyball team picked up four more wins in their packed preseason schedule. In the first game of the Crystal Invitational Tournament, the Lady Eagles faced off against Northeastern Junior College (NJC) out of Sterling, Colorado. Four out of the last five matches had been decided by five sets and this match was no different for the two high level teams.
The Lady Eagles came out with an impressive two-set lead with scores of 25-19 and 25-19. Contentment overtook USU Eastern and the Plainswomen came back with two decisive sets of their own, 25-17 and 25-16, to even up the game. An intense fifth set ensued and the Lady Eagles settled into their offense and defeated NJC 15-12.
Freshman outside hitter Haley McUne led the offensive attack with 15 kills and a .300 hitting percentage made possible in part by freshman setter Katie Compas, who helped run the offense with 29 assists. McUne also led defensively with 20 digs and freshman middle blocker Casidy Fried created a wall with an impressive eight blocks at the net.
In their second match of the day, USU Eastern met up with Northwest College out of Powell, Wyoming. It was a collective team victory for the Lady Eagles as every member of the squad took part in the three game sweep of the Trappers, 25-13, 25-13 and 25-22.
Freshman outside hitter Kennedi Knudsen had 11 kills against the Trappers and Compas once again led with 17 assists. Freshman libero Paige Shumway picked up 21 digs and sophomore right side hitter Sophie Anderson, along with Fried, put up three blocks apiece.
After a strong start to the tournament, the Lady Eagles picked up right where they left off on Saturday morning as they faced the Thunderbirds of Casper College. The Lady Eagles picked up the win as they swept Casper in three sets, 25-18, 25-16 and 25-19.
Freshman outside hitter Kennedi Knudsen led the offense with 11 kills. She was followed closely behind by another Lady Eagle freshman, Haley McUne, with 10 kills of her own. Freshman setter Katie Compas picked up 17 assists and 22 digs were earned by freshman libero Paige Shumway.
“The chemistry in these first three games has been amazing to watch,” said head coach Danielle Jensen. “We have a very young team who have faced some of the toughest competition in the country. These girls are making adjustments from game to game by being coachable and that is what is making all the difference for them right now.”
In the final game of the tournament, USU Eastern faced 11th ranked Central Wyoming in a much-anticipated showdown in front of a mass of Eagle fans. The momentum of four straight victories didn’t fade as the Lady Eagles played their most impressive game of the season against the Rustlers.
After taking the first two sets confidently with scores of 25-20 and 25-14, the Lady Eagles would come up just short in a thrilling third set battle, 26-24. USU Eastern had no intentions of letting Central Wyoming take another set and sailed into its fifth straight victory, pulling off the upset with a final set score of 25-19.
Knudsen continues to be an offensive threat for the Lady Eagles, tallying 17 kills against the Rustlers. Freshman middle blocker Casidy Fried had an impressive showing at the net with eight kills, hitting a .412 percentage and putting up five blocks. McUne led with 22 digs defensively while Shumway picked up 21 of her own. Freshman setter Jenna Thorkelson organized the offense with 25 assists.
“Every member of this team has had to work through so much and it all came together today,” added Jensen. “We knew this was going to have to be a high energy game and they all stepped up, starting with our bench. Their energy spilled onto the court and they used that energy to come away with the win.”
The Lady Eagles will continue their preseason on the road, continuing to place themselves against some of the best teams in the nation. With just a couple days at home, the team will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada to play in a six-game tournament, which includes three nationally ranked opponents. The action begins Thursday against Arizona Western at 1 p.m. PST in Vegas.
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