By Calvin Jensen – USU Eastern Athletics:
Sterling, CO – The conclusion of arguably the toughest preseason schedule in country took place this weekend for the 9th ranked USU Eastern women’s volleyball team. The Lady Eagles stumbled against the No. 1 and No. 20 programs in the country at the Sheila Worley Tournament in Sterling, Colorado.
Up first for USU Eastern was tournament host Northeastern in which the Lady Eagles knew picking up a third win in just a few weeks would not come easily. The Lady Eagles battled through a relentless home crowd and a program firing on all cylinders to pick up their 11th win on the season in five sets (26-24, 24-26, 25-23, 21-25, 15-13).
Sammy Perry led the offense with 16 kills and 3 aces against the Plainswomen followed by Lindsey Otero who added 12 kills from the middle and 3 blocks at the net. Ashlee McUne had 39 assists and 23 digs in the game. Defensively, Emma Ricks had 35 digs.
Finding themselves again in national spotlight, USU Eastern faced the number one team in the country and defending national champion, Iowa Western. In an intense, high-energy game the Lady Eagles stunned the Reivers with a dominating first set win. The momentum shifted back and forth in the following sets with multiple lead changes throughout. Unforced errors late in each of the following sets would prove costly for USU Eastern as they came up short in the four-set loss to Iowa Western (25-20, 20-25, 22-25, 23-25).
“Taking on one of the best programs in the country takes a focused mindset and intense energy. I feel like our team showed improvement in those two areas against Iowa Western and we saw some great things that we hadn’t seen from some of our girls in previous games. We still continue to be content with matching our opponent’s energy instead of generating what we know we are capable of and that can make all the difference in these high-level games,” said head coach Danielle Jensen.
Alyssa Simmons led with 13 kills and five blocks followed close behind by Sammy Perry with twelve kills. Lindsey Otero had 8 blocks and Ashlee McUne led with 23 assists. Emma Ricks had 23 digs defensively and Sammy Perry added nineteen of her own.
In their final preseason game against No. 20 Western Nebraska, the Lady Eagles would let a two-set lead dwindle into a five-set defeat as they gave up their initial momentum and were unable to capture the energy needed to close out the following three sets (25-17, 25-18, 23-25, 22-25, 5-16).
Sammy Perry had 14 kills and Lindsey Otero put up 8 blocks against the Cougars. Ashlee McUne and Camber Dodson combined for 48 assists and Emma Ricks had 23 digs defensively.
“It’s definitely not how we should or wanted to end our pre-season but these girls have played a lot of volleyball with a tougher schedule than any other team in the nation. They have accomplished so much since we began in August but we will need to re-focus and be ready to make necessary adjustments to get a strong start in conference play,” concluded Jensen.
The 9th ranked Lady Eagles (11-5) will spend a welcomed week at home before they hit the road next week against No. 4 Snow College (15-2) to begin SWAC competition. That game will be held in Ephraim, Utah on September 23 at 6:00 p.m. Those unable to attend catch watch all conference games on the Scenic West Digital Network.
*Photo by Jeff Barrett