Fans packed the Swenson Gym on Saturday to watch the final volleyball match of the year and the final game for seniors Shanae Burgin, Briana Wilms and Piper Wahlin. The team was hoping to send those seniors off on a winning note and a lasting memory of joy and triumph.
Eastern Washington University came to town playing heartbreaker, as it was able to hold off the Wildcat momentum late in the match to win in four sets (27-25, 25-22, 22-25, 25-15).
The Wildcats were once again led by hard-hitting junior Audrey Biggs, as she eclipsed double digits in kills for the second-straight game with 12 kills. Biggs didn’t make an attacking error until early in the fourth set, but she also added five digs and two services aces.
Her partners in crime for the night were Rebecca Fuchs, who had nine kills, and Megan Bean and Burgin, who had eight kills apiece. Samantha Staker held down the middle as she evenly distributed the ball for 40 kills, while McKay Tarbox was everywhere again with 17 digs.
Emotions were already high as the seniors were honored before the match with a brief introduction and presentation by head coach Tom Peterson and athletic director Jerry Bovee. But the Wildcats were committed to winning their last game of the year as they started the match on a strong note.
In the first set, the Wildcats were able to capitalize on the mistakes of EWU, jumping out to an early 14-10 lead. Both Tarbox and Biggs played huge roles in some major rallies that gave the Wildcats the momentum down the stretch.
With the match tied at 22 and after a timeout, the Wildcats scored the next two points to reward themselves in set point. They were unable to capitalize on those chances, however, as EWU stormed back, taking the first set 27-25.
After EWU took an early first-set lead, the Wildcats continued to chip away until a 3-0 run gave them their first lead in the set. Fuchs added to that lead with an ace. The Wildcats had nine service aces throughout the match. Just as it seemed the Wildcats would walk away with the first set, EWU put together a good stretch of volleyball, eventually finishing the set on a 5-0 run.
The star of the third set would have to be the lone active senior, Burgin, as she had a stretch of a block and back-to-back kills to give the Wildcats an earlier lead. But the Eagles wouldn’t back down. They continued to fight back, but the Wildcats received a momentum boost in what could be called the play of the year.
After a ball was deflected, Staker sprinted toward the sideline, where she was able to get the ball over to Biggs on the opposite side of the court as she slammed into the media table. Biggs hammered the ball past the defense, and there were smiles all around.
Just as in the second set, EWU was given an early lead, but the Wildcats tried to chip away as much as they could. They couldn’t find a rhythm, as EWU was able to contain its hitters for a majority of the match. The Wildcats were unable to respond to the runs, eventually losing the set and the match.
Even after the loss, Peterson was upbeat in what he saw from his team, and the future continues to look bright. Missed serves and small mistakes cost the team some points, but he said the offense is getting better.
“The first game, we let that get away from us and had two swings for set point,” Peterson said. “Other than that, we outplayed them for nine-10ths of a game. I thought we battled back, especially in that third. Our hitting percentage was really good tonight. When we get the ball to the setter, I bet we are hitting around .500.”
Burgin, who has been part of the volleyball program for five years, has had her ups and downs, but said she felt like she ended her career having learned more about perseverance. In her last collegiate match, she gave her team energy and fought hard until the end.
“I love blocking; it is my favorite thing, especially with somebody,” Burgin said. “It feels good to be working with someone. It generates energy when we can go on runs. I was able to stop some of the things that they were doing well.”
The Wildcats finished the season with a record of 7-27 normal play and a record of 3-17 in Big Sky play.