By Calvin Jensen, USU Eastern Sports Information Contributor
The 12th ranked Lady Eagles of USU Eastern put on quite a show in Ephraim ON Saturday and came within points of a major upset against Snow College in the Region XIII SWAC Championship.
After losing the first set 25-23, USU Eastern powered ahead in the following two sets, gaining a 2-1 advantage over the Badgers, 25-21 and 25-21. The fourth set proved to be a heartbreaker for the team as they allowed a significant late set lead to diminish, resulting in a 25-25 battle. With Eagles fans on their feet, USU Eastern gained the advantage at 26-25 but were unable to convert the game-winning score, allowing Snow to push the points and hand the Eagles a 28-26 loss. With the momentum in Snow’s favor, the Lady Eagles battled hard but come up short in the fifth set, 15-11.
Sophomore standout Kiara Richardson led the team with 19 kills and three blocks in the championship match. Libero Emma Ricks kept the ball in action with 22 digs while middle blocker Kahea Nihipali dominated the net with 11 kills and seven blocks.Ashlee McUne added 41 assists to keep her second place spot in the nation with a total of 1,437 assists on the year.
After a historic season and with roster of only three sophomores and 14 freshman, the Lady Eagles finish with a record 27 wins, sweeping 18 of their opponents. The team spent ten weeks in the NJCAA Top 20 national rankings, ending at No. 12. The Lady Eagles defeated six teams on the national rankings list and advanced to the SWAC Championship for the first time.
“These girl’s played their best volleyball of the year, at the right time, in one of the most difficult settings,” said head coach Danielle Jensen. “Experiencing a championship game for the first time, as the underdog, I couldn’t have asked for a better response. Although we didn’t get the win against a tough Snow team, there were many victories throughout the game and season as a whole, which we will build on going forward.”
USU Eastern has submitted its application for one of two at-large bids to make an appearance at the national tournament. That selection will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 12. If the Eagles are a recipients of one of those bids, they will travel to Hutchinson, Kansas for the NJCAA National Tournament Nov. 21-23.