Photo by Jeff Barrett
By Calvin Jensen
Going up against four of the top ten teams in the country put the USU Eastern women’s volleyball team in the national spotlight over the weekend. The Lady Eagles saw their ranking and raised them an upset in three of the four matchups in the Sam and Louie’s Pizza Invitational.
Starting off against 9th ranked Northeastern, the Lady Eagles battled in the opening set but came up short, 24-26. In the following two sets, the Lady Eagles shot out with strong momentum, which carried them to back-to-back set wins, 25-17 and 25-19. Battling back, Northeastern entered the fourth set with a 5-0 run, deflating the Lady Eagles’ momentum, which they would be unable to regain in the final two sets, ultimately falling to the Plainsmen in the fifth set, 8-15. (Stat Leaders: OH Kamryn Wiese 15 Kills, OPP Sunny Perry 5 Blocks, L Emma Ricks 31 Digs, S Camber Dodson 51 Assists)
“The team defeated themselves in a mental battle against Northeastern,” said head coach Danielle Jensen. “We knew the competition that we were up against going into the tournament. I felt like they began the weekend without giving themselves the credit they deserved and when they fell behind they were not in a position mentally to organize their game and overcome the pressure.”
With no time to dwell on the loss, 6th ranked Iowa Western immediately followed in the Lady Eagles’ final competition of the day. With the lack of momentum from the previous game, the Lady Eagles once again struggled to create any type of offense and no answers defensively against the Reivers with a 16-25 first set loss. After a fiery team huddle and adjustments made by the coaching staff, the Lady Eagles flipped a switch and were able to unify. The adjustment allowed USU Eastern to keep the energy at a high level throughout the remainder of the game, upsetting No. 6 Iowa Western by winning three sets in a row, 25-18, 25-19 and 25-21. (Stat Leaders: Kamryn Wiese 11 Kills, MB Lindsey Otero 9 Blocks, L Emma Ricks 25 Digs, S Camber Dodson 26 Assists)
When asked about what changed in their play against the Reivers, sophomore opposite hitter Sunny Perry said, “We all were able to get on the same page and our energy was outstanding going into the second set. It was a great feeling walking away from that game realizing the potential that we have.”
Saturday, in a rare preseason matchup against conference foe and 2nd ranked Snow College, the Lady Eagles were able to pivot from their monumental win the day before. A strong defensive presence by USU Eastern slowed down their opponents and allowed for a first set win against the Badgers, 25-23. In the second set, errors allowed Snow College to run ahead of the Lady Eagles, tying the game 1-1 with a set score of 16-25.
Determined to fight back and make the necessary adjustments, the Lady Eagles’ almost flawless passing and impressive defense allowed for a strong 25-14 third set win. Understanding that any drop in energy would be costly, USU Eastern applied the pressure and ran the score up, coming within points of a fourth set win. However, costly errors once again allowed Snow to stay in the game and make a late run, winning the fourth set 22-25.
In a point-for-point combat and being down 9-11 in the final set, the Lady Eagles refused to have another fifth set defeat and maintained the energy and focus required to come away with an emotional and thrilling 15-13 upset. (Stat Leaders: MB Rachel West 11 Kills, MB Lindsey Otero 6 Blocks, L Emma Ricks 21 Digs, and S Camber Dodson 32 Assists)
“It was one of the best feelings I have ever felt,” said freshman middle blocker Lindsey Otero. “It was so great to see all of our hard work pay off. Storming the court after our win against Snow and just hugging and cheering was exactly what we work for. It takes us another step closer to our goal of making it to nationals and winning the title. The feeling is indescribable and we will continue working hard and polish our game.”
In their final game of the day and with two momentous wins behind them, the Lady Eagles would accept nothing other than to end the tournament with another upset. Taking on 3rd ranked Seward County, the Lady Eagles found themselves once again in the zone, which allowed for 3-1 win against a consistent top ten contending Seward County program. (Stat Leaders: MB Rachel West 12 Kills, MB Lindsey Otero 9 Blocks, L Emma Ricks 25 Digs, and S Avery Best 26 Assists)
“We know the potential this team has and we created a schedule that would allow them to see that potential,” said head coach Danielle Jensen. “It took a little while for them to believe in themselves but once they did I knew there was not stopping them. The entire team earned those wins this weekend and I know playing at this level will have them prepared for conference.”
The Lady Eagles will continue their preseason on the road as they travel to Prescott, Ariz. to take on another onslaught of ranked and well-respected programs in a four-game tournament. The team begins by facing Eastern Arizona on Thursday, Feb. 4 at 11:30 a.m. Games will be live streamed on the USU Eastern Athletics Facebook page.