GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado took it to Eastern Washington on Thursday night.
Simple as that.
The Bears used scorching-hot hitting, a well-rounded attack and timely defense to get a resounding 3-0 victory against the Eagles. Eastern Washington came into Butler-Hancock in sole possession of second place in the Big Sky Conference, but left Greeley in a tie for third with Lyndsey Benson's moving-up-the-standings Bears.
And it was quick. Northern Colorado held on for a 25-22 victory in the first set but then put the Eagles away 25-17 in set two and 25-16 in set three.
Now the Bears (9-3, 3-1 Big Sky Conference) will turn their attention toward a Saturday-night match against Portland State. The top spot in the Big Sky will be on the line.
“Portland State has, hands-down, proven that they are the best team in the conference so far this season," Benson said. "So we’re going to have our hands full with them. But we’re playing really well in Butler-Hancock right now, and I like our chances going in. It’s going to be a fun match.”
If Northern Colorado plays like it did Thursday against the Eagles (6-8, 3-2) the home fans will be in for a treat.
Four Bears had eight or more kills against Eastern Washington, including Taylor Smith (12), Ashley Lichtenberg (10), Kenzie Shreeve (11) and Allison Raguse (8).
And as a team, Northern Colorado outhit the Eagles .364 to .147. That's not a misprint.
“We’re very well-rounded this year," Benson said.
"And that showed up tonight, where we had four players high in
kills. And that started with our defense. We got a lot of
transition kills. I don’t know that we were great in
serve-receive scoring, but we were great in transition scoring.
“We’re tough to stop when we have three hitters coming at you that fast that hard off a dig.”
Defensively, the Bears out-dug Eastern Washington 34-30. Most notably, though, Northern Colorado was able to keep the Eagles' high-flying Hayley Hills from doing much damage. She came into the match averaging 4.26 kills per set, but she only had eight kills in the loss.
"We focused on a couple of their primary hitters, and it seemed
like they didn’t get set as much tonight," Smith said. "We
really focused on Hayley Hills, and it seemed like she didn’t
get set as much.
“Our main focus was to take care of their (outside hitters) Hills and No. 12 (Alysha Cook). And I think we really did that.”
And not to be forgotten in the match was senior setter Lauren Carter. She dished out her usual 30-plus assists, but it was her defense that might have propelled the Bears. She came into the 2008 season with two solo blocks in her career, but she doubled that amount against Eastern Washington.
Not bad for a setter.
"Lauren had a great match for us," Benson said. "She was definitely a senior leader. She did a great job blocking, and you would have never known she was 5-7 by the way she blocked tonight. She made some net plays like a 6-footer tonight. She just really played big tonight.”