The historic postseason run for the No. 4 ranked Utah State University Eastern Volleyball team came to a close Thursday. The Eagles earned their first ever NJCAA tournament victory early in the day, sweeping No. 13 Missouri State University West Plains in their first-round match. The team then fell in the quarterfinal round to No. 5 Iowa Western.
“We made it to the quarterfinals of the national tournament,” said head coach Danielle Jensen. “Those are new heights for the Eagles, and we just plan on building from there.”
In their first-round win, the Eagles faced adversity in each set, but each time found a way to rally, including the second set going into extra points. Trailing in each of the sets, the Eagles shook off early nerves and came back to win the match in straight sets, with set scores of 25-23, 26-24 and 25-19. The Eagles tallied 37 kills in the match, led by Rachel West with eight and Sunny Perry with seven. Libero Emma Ricks tallied 17 digs to lead the Eagles.
“We struggled with nerves a bit early,” said Jensen of the big stage. “Once they settled in, you could feel the confidence come back. We knew we were facing a great team. I was very proud of the way our team continued to battle for this win.”
The Eagles then faced a rematch of a regular season match that they won 3-1 in the second week of the regular season. This time, the No. 5 Iowa Western Reivers got their revenge, taking the match 3-0 to advance to the tournament semifinals.
After losing the first two sets in close fashion, 20-25 and 23-25, the third got out of hand with the Eagles falling 25-11. USU Eastern’s first two sets were plagued by minor mistakes and the fifth-seeded Reivers were able to take advantage with tremendous passing and timely kills.
Kahea Nihipali led the Eagles with eight kills and libero Emma Ricks led all players with 24 digs.
Despite the loss, Jensen is so proud of her team and what they have accomplished.
“This Iowa Western team came out to play,” said Jensen. “We credit them for a tremendously played match.”
Athletic Director Scott Madsen echoed the thoughts shared by Jensen, saying he knows that this is just the beginning for the national success for the program.
“I am so proud of this team and what they and Coach Jensen and her staff have done,” said Madsen. “They are so fun to watch.”
USU Eastern’s season is not over, as the Eagles will play again Friday at 1 p.m. MDT to battle for final season placement, with a chance to finish as high as fifth.