By PAUL DELANEY
Eastern Washington University's head volleyball coach, Miles Kydd, is putting much more stock in what he thinks his players will accomplish versus preseason prognosticators.
When told his team had recently been picked to finish third in a poll of fellow Big Sky Conference coaches, the fifth-year Eagles' coach said it was news to him. “I deleted it to be honest with you,” Kydd said of the email sharing the news. “I didn't read it.”
“That's a preseason poll and obviously somebody thinks we have something,” Kydd said. When he did take a look at the poll, the drop off from the top two spots – No. 1 Northern Colorado and Portland State – to Eastern, “that's a big point difference.”
Most of the poll response is based on what happened last year, Kydd explained.
“It's going to be interesting because you don't know what North Dakota's like, you don't know what Southern Utah's like, although you do know North Dakota won their conference.”
What Kydd does know is that Eastern played Southern Utah and beat them in five games in the UNLV tournament.
“I think we didn't add any cannon fodder to our league,” Kydd said of the additions. “The teams that have joined are good volleyball teams; now we're 11 deep.”
“I don't think it got any easier,” he said as Kydd's team is coming off a 13-15 season that saw the team finish fourth in the Big Sky race with a 9-7 league record.
As the No. 4 seed in the tournament, the Eagles were pitted against regular-season champion and eventual tournament champion Northern Colorado. The Bears defeated EWU in the semis, 3-0.
So much for last year. His 2012 squad has what he called a strong returning base. Eastern returns nine letterwinners, which includes five starters from 2011. In addition, the Eagles have two returning redshirts and four newcomers.
“Obviously Cora (Kellerman) being first team all-conference and Shelby (Puckett) being second team and being motivated to be better this year,” are big plusses Kydd said.
Kellerman, a senior from La Conner, Wash. returns after a stellar 2011 season that saw her emerge as one of the top five hitters in the conference. Kellerman was twice selected as a Big Sky Player of the Week during her junior campaign.
“Cora is definitely someone we will be leaning on to be our offensive catalyst,” Kydd said.
Another senior, Puckett, a local out of Latah, Wash. can hit from both the left and right sides, and like Kellerman, she has proved to be an asset on defense.
Although Puckett and Kellerman are the obvious threats on the outside, Eastern is certainly not lacking in other options with seven players fighting for a spot in the rotation in 2012.
Junior Ashley Wright might have the best shot at securing one of the starting spots, as she has been on the floor for two years and is part of the strong upperclassmen contingent.
“Ashley obviously has a leg up in terms of experience,” Kydd said. Sophomores Kelsey Julian, Kayla Randles and Britta Forsythe, along with freshman Allie Schumacher will vie for minutes.
Senior Laney Brown, the Eagles other setter is recovering from a broken toe. “That will kind of change what we're doing offensively playing with both setters on the court,” Kydd said. That means junior Lindsay Niemeier will see more minutes.
“I fully believe either one of our setters is capable of running the offense,” Kydd said.
Eastern enjoys the luxury of experience with its setters and outside hitters. However, the team has a noticeable young look to it with its middle hitting and defensive specialists.
The Eagles have four middles this year, the oldest being a youngster in sophomore Talia Fermantez. The Honolulu, Hawaii, native played in 26 of 28 matches as a rookie in 2011. The Eagles also have two redshirt-freshmen in Kellen Barfield and Rachel Morrow who will compete for a spot, as will true freshman Allison Schumacher.
Eastern has three defensive specialists on the roster, and while all three are skilled, each is lacking in match experience. Junior Celeste Crosby played as a freshman in 2010, but has been sidelined with injuries ever since.
“Celeste has the potential to be our best passer and best defender,” Kydd said.
Freshman Serena Ah Choy, who joined the team following the 2011 fall season, was able to practice and play throughout the spring.
“Serena can be a valuable asset to us - she just has to find the confidence,” Kydd said.
Another freshman, Puyallup's Ryann Ensrud, is also expected to see court time this year.
The Eagles open the season Aug. 24-25 at the UniWyo Cowgirl Classic, where they will play four matches in two days.
The team then returns to the Inland Northwest for the Gonzaga Invitational Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, where the Eagles will face UC Riverside, South Dakota State and Gonzaga. “It's nice,” Kydd said. “The girls will play for two days and there's not another two days of travel.”
The preseason schedule sees the Eagles follow their Gonzaga tournament action by playing at Iowa State with Iowa, Iowa State and Syracuse part of the field. “Those are all really good teams,” Kydd said.
The Big Sky season starts Sept. 13 with a road match at Sacramento State. The Eagles make their Reese Court debut Monday, Sept. 17 against Portland State at 7 p.m.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.