The 2017 season was not an easy one for EWU volleyball. The Eagles went 7-18, lost 10 out of their last 11 games and missed the postseason.
Despite only graduating two seniors, EWU saw all but five of its 14 players leave after the season, and the team parted ways with head coach Michael King. Then, athletic director Lynn Hickey brought in Drake University assistant coach Leslie Flores-Cloud to take over the squad, and things changed… Fast.
Flores-Cloud met her players less than two months before the season started.
“It’s been crazy,” Flores-Cloud said. “I haven’t caught a breath yet.”
Despite EWU’s entire nonconference schedule being on the road, the Eagles finished it 8-4, already surpassing last year’s win total. They never lost back-to-back games, they beat three teams in straight sets and won 26 sets while dropping 18.
Flores-Cloud credits her players for much of the success.
“Their buy-in is just unbelievable,” Flores-Cloud said. “I could not ask for anything better than the buy-in they have given me. I just remind them every day of what our goals are, how we are going to work toward them and how we are going to achieve them.”
All this has been accomplished by a team with 11 newcomers and five returners.
Sophomore Libero Catelyn Linke, who also played under King last year, said the team’s buy in this season comes with the change of atmosphere that Flores-Cloud brought with her.
“[Flores-Cloud brings] consistency, positivity and passion,” Linke said. “She is so passionate. Same with Kelly [Bonja], our assistant coach. They just bring that energy to the gym. They want you to succeed. They want you to do well.”
Despite the large number of new players, Linke said the team has quickly come together as one.
“We play for each other,” Linke said. “I think that’s the most important thing. There’s not one selfish person on the team.”
The fact the team did not lose back to back games in its nonconference schedule is in stark contrast to last season, when the team suffered losing streaks of four in nonconference play, and eight in conference play.
Flores-Cloud said when the team loses, she tells her players to learn from it and move on. When talking to Linke, it is clear that mindset has rubbed off on the players.
“We just take every loss as a learning experience,” Linke said. “We learn and get better from every loss. I mean, we really don’t like to lose, but you can’t change what has already happened. You can learn from it though.”
Flores-Cloud said the returning players have provided a welcoming atmosphere for the new players, and that everyone has done what is asked of them.
“The kids who have come in are fighters,” Flores-Cloud said. “[The returning players] have been through a lot, but the trust between us is continuing to build, and they are willing to give it their all. The wins behind them are showing what happens when you do that.”
Freshman middle blocker Kennedy Kaminsky has been strong for the Eagles. She leads the team with 99 kills, and 2.25 kills-per-set. Linke leads in aces with 18.
As a team, the Eagles have committed 65 service errors, while their opponents have committed 104. Much improved from last year when they out-errored their opponents 212-193 while serving.
The start of the season consisted of four weekend tournaments hosted at various sites across the country. The Eagles traveled to Riverside, California Aug. 24 to 25, and beat all three teams they faced there, including host UC Riverside. The next weekend they finished 2-2 in a tournament in North Dakota, before going 2-1 in North Carolina. They wrapped things up by splitting two games in Texas last week. All 12 teams the Eagles faced are NCAA Division I schools.
Linke says she’s glad that part of the season is over.
“It was fun to travel to all these places, but I’m definitely excited for a home crowd,” Linke said. •