Eastern Washington University head volleyball coach Wade Benson gets to see if what he learned while at the next level can help rekindle the magic as the Eagles make their debut this weekend at the Oregon Classic tournament in Eugene.
The Eagles will take on host Oregon, Friday (Aug. 30) in a 7 p.m. contest at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene. They follow with matches versus Ohio University and Bryant University from Rhode Island.
Benson, who returns to the helm for the first time since the 2006 season when he left for an assistant coaching position at Auburn University, welcomes four starters and eight letter winners from last year’s squad that finished 5-26 overall and 5-15 in Big Sky play.
The hope is he can right the course of EWU volleyball. During his previous tenure, Eastern won three Big Sky titles and a first-round NCAA tournament match over Oregon State. EWU won at least 20 matches in his final six seasons at the helm and advanced to the championship match of the Big Sky Tournament every year.
Senior setter Lindsay Niemeier and middle blocker Ashley Wright will captain this year’s team as the two most experienced players on the roster. Niemeier suffered a season-ending injury in Eastern’s first match last season.
Also back are junior middle blocker Talia Fermantez and sophomore outside hitter Kellen Barfield, both of whom played at least 90 sets a season ago.
Hired last December, Benson has been busy recruiting and has what are described as, “an accomplished trio of transfers,” including junior outside hitter Melissa Waelter. She joins the Eagles after two years at South Alabama, where she started 49 matches for the Jaguars.
Junior outside hitter Stanka Panic and junior setter Milica Nisavic come to Cheney after stand-out careers at Casper College in Casper, Wyo. The duo led Casper College to a regional championship in 2012.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.