MOUNTAINEER SPIKERS SET GOALS HIGH
By Joe Sova
It may not have counted in the season record, but last Satur-day's volleyball victory over an alumni squad was big for East-ern Oregon University.
The Mountaineers are using the come-from-behind win as a springboard into the opening weekend. Eastern will have four matches in a span of just over 24 hours at a round-robin invitational at Montana State Univ-ersity-Northern in Havre. Eastern faces MSU-Northern at 10 a.m. PDT Friday, then plays the University of Great Falls at 5 p.m. On Saturday, Eastern takes on Willis-ton, N.D. in an 8 a.m. match, and finishes with a match against University of Montana-Western at noon.
"It's something to build on. We played very well the last four games," third-year head coach Ryan Platt said. "Every single game we played we got better and better."
Eastern is off to a much better start than was the case last year, when the Mountaineers were disrupted by early injuries.
"Key personnel weren't able to come in like we were hoping," Platt said, "which meant that we had to have a lot of freshmen that had to step into starting roles.
"It was kind of nice. They got a lot of experience," the coach added. "We were just gearing for the future."
Platt had only two seniors on last year's squad, which had a 2-16 Cascade Collegiate Confer-ence mark and 3-20 overall record.
"It was a very, very young team. It was very tough at times," Platt said. "It's something where you just have to play and learn as much as you can in a year, and there's always next year."
Eastern is young again, with a trio of seniors on the squad. They are 5-foot-11 all-conference, all-region outside hitter Kaki Mc-Lean, setter Sarelle Parrish and redshirt middle blocker Bina Hegtvedt. After a severe ankle injury last spring, Hegtvedt is having a problem with her other leg.
"She's a phenomenal player. She works hard," Platt said of Hegtvedt.
Jamie Russell of Grangeville, Idaho, would have been a senior, but a midseason shoulder injury last year ended her college car-eer, according to Platt. Eastern also lost Heather Ruhnke midway through last season due to a shoulder injury. That ended her college career, and Ruhnke is an assistant to Platt this year along with Gary Vonderohe.
Junior defensive specialist Emily Lee is coming off a redshirt year; she is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in last year's alumni match.
One of Eastern's top recruits is 5-foot-11 middle hitter Aubrey Schneider. She led Estacada to the Class 3A state championship last season and was honored as 3A state player of the year. Six-foot Anna Yost of Joseph will play both volleyball and basketball at Eastern.
Platt expects the Mountain-eers to be very competitive this season.
"All around we're much better than we were last year," Platt said. "We lacked a couple of hitters who could put the ball away on the outside, in the middle or wherever need be. We're better at every position this year ... Offense, defense, it's very nice to see."
Outside hitting and the middle should both be strong, according to Platt.
"Everything at the front row looks really good this year," Platt said.
McLean anchors the net for Eastern.
"She's phenomenal at every aspect of the game, a tremendous leader," Platt said of McLean.
Platt said Eastern has four quality defensive specialists, led by Lee. Others are Kim Marr, Jessie Morris and Olivia Graff.
"We're very strong defensive wise," Platt said. "We have three amazing setters. Ball control and attacking is coming along, especially with those great setters."
Those setters are Parrish, junior college transfer Mary Branch and freshman Jenna Elliott.
"Our serving is extremely tough this year," Platt said. "One of the main things about us this year is that we're a lot deeper, everywhere."
Eastern's first regular season match at Quinn Coliseum is Sept. 10, when the Mountaineers host Western Baptist College.