By Calvin Jensen
The nationally-ranked USU Eastern women’s volleyball team traveled across several state lines over the weekend to compete in the Western Nebraska Crossover Tourney. The Lady Eagles faced four tough programs to begin their season, two of which are currently ranked in the NJCAA national preseason poll.
On Thursday afternoon, USU Eastern looked to prove their ranking as they faced #11 Otero Junior College. The first two sets went to the Lady Eagles in impressive fashion, 25-19 and 25-14. Errors by USU Eastern in the third set let Otero gain enough momentum to squeak out a 25-23 third set win. In a point-for-point battle in the fourth, the Lady Eagles were victorious with a 25-23 game, winning the fourth set and taking the game 3-1.
In back-to-back competition, the Lady Eagles used their winning momentum to defeat a well-coached McCook Community College team. Scores of 25-19, 25-20 and 25-21 gave USU Eastern a 2-0 start to their season.
Opposite hitter Sunny Perry led the Lady Eagles offensively on their opening day with 20 kills between the two matches. Outside hitter Alyssa Simmons was close behind with 19 kills on the day. Putting up a brick wall on the front row was middle blocker Lindsey Otero, who earned 10 blocks, while freshman outside hitter Kamryn Wiese added another eight. Setter Camber Dodson controlled the floor with 87 assists while sophomore libero Emma Ricks led the defense with 32 digs.
“Coming out and getting the win against a ranked Otero program was exactly what our team needed to start off the season,” said head coach Danielle Jensen. “They refused to give up and their hard work in the off season was displayed in that game. McCook was a tough team also and I was happy to see that momentum from the earlier win transfer to the back-to-back game.”
On Saturday, the early morning game didn’t slow down the team as they dominated in every set against the Trojans by scores of 25-10, 25-13 and 25-15. It was a collective effort by the entire Lady Eagles team as each player spent time on the court to get the impressive win.
17th ranked Western Nebraska was the final competition for the Lady Eagles as they battled the Cougars on their home court. In the first set, USU Eastern errors led to a sizable lead for the Cougars and the Lady Eagles weren’t able to close that gap, dropping the set 25-19. Knowing the significance of the matchup, the Lady Eagles came out with an almost flawless set two, shutting down the offense of the Cougars and picking up a 25-15 win.
Tied 1-1, a point-for-point battle ensued but the Lady Eagles were edged out by the Cougars 25-23. Able to maintain high energy down 2-1, USU Eastern won set four, setting up a five-set battle neither program wanted to find themselves in. The Lady Eagles came out swinging, scoring the first few points, but too many blocking errors allowed Western Nebraska to edge the Lady Eagles and come away with the 3-2 win.
“This game was an invaluable learning experience for our team. We learned what we need to focus on and what we need to adjust after playing in these high-level competitions,” Jensen said. “There were too many unforced errors that were made. Our team never let the energy on the court drop and that is very promising going forward once we make the necessary adjustments.”
Between the two matches Saturday, outside hitter Kamryn Wiese chalked up an impressive 25 kills to lead the offense. Setter Camber Dodson not only fed the offense with 78 assists, but she helped protect the net leading with seven blocks. Libero Emma Ricks had 39 digs while defending the back row and defensive specialist Kennedy Poulton added four aces on the day.
The Lady Eagles will travel to Sterling, Colo. this weekend as they face an onslaught of nationally-ranked teams. On Friday, they will take on #14 Northeastern Junior College at 11 a.m. followed by #7 Iowa Western at 1:30 p.m. On Saturday, they will face conference foe and the sixth ranked Snow College Badgers at 9 a.m. and national champion runner-up #3 Seward County at 11:30 a.m.