VOLLEYBALL OPENS BIG SKY PLAY THURSDAY AT EASTERN WASHINGTON
Game Notes (17 pages) - pdf
The Week Ahead
Sacramento State (5-6) will begin the Big Sky Conference portion of the season on the road later this week when the team plays at Eastern Washington on Thursday at 6 p.m., followed by a matchup at Portland State on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Entering its 18th season in the conferernce, the Hornets dominated the league to the tune of 11 straight Big Sky regular season and/or tournament championships from 1997-07. That culminated in a second round NCAA Tournament appearance in 2007.
The Hornets, however, have not won a league title since 2007, and will look to re-establish themselves as contenders beginning on Thursday at Eastern Washington. After this week's matches, the Hornets will play four consecutive, and eight of their next 10 conference matches at home.
Sacramento State has dropped five straight after beginning the season with a 5-1 record, but the Hornets have played without the services of their best player (senior rightside hitter Kayla Beal) each of the last three matches while she deals with a back injury. Beal's status for this week is questionable.
Eastern Washington has dropped four straight and will enter Thursday's match with a 3-8 record. The Eagles are coached by Wade Benson, who is back with the program this year after coaching EWU to a 154-55 record from 2000-06.
Portland State, which was selected to win this year's Big Sky title in the preseason coaches poll and will host this year's conference tournament, enters the week with a 3-7 record. However, four of those losses have come against opponents ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation.
Beginning on Thursday, every match the rest of the season can be viewed live and free on www.WatchBigSky.com. Viewers just need to create a user name and password through the website, and tune in about five minutes before the match begins. Live stats will be offered through both Eastern Washington's website by clicking here, and Portland State's website by clicking here.
Nice Start For Lovett
During the non-conference portion of the season, sophomore outside hitter Sloan Lovett has not only established herself as one of the top players on the Hornets, but one of the top outside hitters in the Big Sky Conference. This comes one year after she finished her freshman season with averages of 1.25 kills and 0.51 digs while hitting just .059. Now, she is one of two Sacramento State players to start every match thus far, and ranks among Big Sky leaders in aces (1st, 0.41 per set), kills (3rd, 3.41 per set) and hitting percentage (9th; .266). Lovett has posted double figures in kills in all but three matches, and has yet to finish below the seven kill mark in any of the team's 11 contests.
Serving Up Aces
As usual, Sacramento State has dished out its fair share of aces this season. Each of the last four years, the Hornets have finished either first or second in the Big Sky in aces, and the team currently leads the league by a wide margin. Sacramento State is averaging 1.60 aces per set, which includes a season-high 12 this past Friday against Idaho. The team has six different players who have accumulated at least six aces this year, including conference leader Sloan Lovett (16 aces, 0.41 per set) and Lexie Skalbeck who is third in the league with 12 aces, and 0.32 per set.
The Hornets have dropped five straight matches, and when looking at some numbers, its easy to see why. During the losing streak, the Hornets are hitting just .166 while the opposition is hitting .307. Sacramento State is averaging less than 10 kills per set (9.94) and has combined for just 23 blocks over the five matches. The team has been aced 39 times, and has averaged just 12.89 digs per set, well below their season average of 14.32.
Hitting For A High Percentage
Sacramento State's hitting percentage of .241 is the second best mark in the Big Sky despite hitting below .190 in four of their last five matches. Five of the Hornets' usual starters are hitting above .210, and only two of the team's non-defensive specialists are hitting below .200. In comparison, last year's .177 hitting percentage ranked ahead of just three teams in the Big Sky.
Youth Is Served
Sacramento State has started six underclassmen this year, including four freshmen and two sophomore. The team has consistently started freshman Morgan Stanley and sophomore Sloan Lovett at outside hitter, a freshman has started at middle blocker in all 11 matches (Courtney Dietrich or Kendall LaVine), and freshman Lexie Skalbeck has started a pair of matches at libero/defensive specialist.
The Beal Effect
If rightside hitter Kayla Beal's value to the team wasn't already known, her importance was certainly apparent last weekend. She missed the Hornets' three matches at last weekend's tournament at Boise State with a back injury, and the Hornets won just one set during that time. Beal has been the team's best passer and blocker all season long, and second best attacker. Sacramento State struggled in all three of those areas during the tournament without the athletic Beal, who is averaging 3.13 kills and 0.80 blocks per set while hitting .270.
Sacramento State is 5-0 when hitting better than .220, and 0-6 when hitting .220 or below…setter Hannah Hettinga and outside hitter Sloan Lovett are the only two Hornets to start all 11 matches this year…the Hornets played without a starter in all four matches last week, missing middle blocker Chelcy Motes (flu) against UC Davis, and rightside hitter Kayla Beal (back) all three tournament matches…senior libero Katie Aprile has just one error in her last 71 service attempts, and now has a 2-to-1 service ace-to-error ratio (eight aces, four errors).