Observer staff

The Eastern Oregon volleyball team couldn’t have scripted a much better start to the NAIA National Championships in Sioux City, Iowa.

Amanda Miller had 11 kills, Madisen Garlie recorded 10, and the No. 15 Mountaineers opened pool play with a sweep of No. 17 Georgetown (Ky.) Tuesday, 25-21, 25-22, 25-13.

“I thought that our seniors played really well,” head coach Kaki McLean-Morehead said. “I though all our hitters did a good job of putting the ball away.”

The victory marks the third time in four years EOU has opened pool play at NAIAs with a victory, and is also the third time Eastern had topped the Tigers in the national tournament. The Mountaineers swept Georgetown in pool play a season ago, and earned a five-set win in the round of 16 in 2014.

“There’s a couple of those kids we played. That helps,” McLean-Morehead said of EOU’s tournament familiarity with Georgetown. “But each team is different too. The main thing we’re focusing on is not our opponents — it’s about making the adaptations we need to make quickly and staying consistent.”

Miller and Garlie led a balanced attack for the Mountaineers. Megan Bunn added seven kills both Emily Nay and Isabelle Statkus had five. Nay and Statkus were also tough at the net defensively with four blocks apiece. Garlie chipped in three blocks.

As a team, the Mountaineers recorded a kill percentage of .327, and improved as each set went along. EOU hit .268 in the first set, then jumped to .345 in the second and .387 in the third.

“We wanted to keep the pressure on them and be consistent,” McLean-Morehead said. “I thought hey did a good job of that.”

The strong attack in the third set allowed EOU to pull away, while the Tigers, who hit just .133 for the match, turned in their worst mark with a .000 percentage in Set 3.

EOU blew open what was a tight third set with a 12-1 run, turning an 8-7 deficit into a 19-9 advantage. Hailee Ackerman had three kills during the run, which ended with Miller’s 10th kill. Garlie and Statkus teamed up for a block later for a 23-11 advantage, and Statkus sealed the match with a kill.

EOU and Georgetown battled to an 18-all tie in the first set before the Mountaineers gained some breathing room. Nay’s kill started a key 6-1 run, which ended with EOU up, 24-19. Bunn ended the set three points later with a kill.

Another big EOU run, this time a 15-5 rally, gave Eastern the lead for good in the second set. Mills gave EOU a 10-5 lead with an ace. Miller pushed the lead to eight later with a kill and Statkus made it 17-9 with another kill. Georgetown pulled within two points late in the set on several occasions, the last at 24-22 on a Jenny Howell kill, but Bunn followed with her second set-ending kill.

Kiley McMurtrey led the back row with 12 digs, Malia Mills recorded nine and Holli Mullins had eight. Madison Pilon picked up the lion’s share of the work at setter and led EOU with 29 assists.

Howell had 14 kills to lead the Tigers (21-5 overall). Kassidy Rauh had 32 assists and Madison Mudd had 14 digs.

EOU (23-9) continues pool play Wednesday against Our Lady of the Lake (Tex.) and finishes against No. 2 Viterbo (Wisc.) Thursday. Viterbo earned a 25-14, 25-15, 25-19 win over the Saints in the other pool match Tuesday.

“They’re pretty scrappy and they’re pretty consistent,” McLean-Morehead said of OLL.

A win over OLL Wednesday, coupled with a win by Viterbo against Georgetown, would guarantee that the Mountaineers would advance out of pool play.