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Volleyball News & Highlights

November 03, 2012

Eagles Sweep Freedom Season Honors


Kearby Benak is 24 kills short of 1000 for her career.

ANNVILLE, Pa.- For the third time in the last five years, Eastern University Volleyball swept the major awards from the Freedom Conference. In addition to winning Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Coach of the Year, the No. 21 Eagles placed six players on the All-Conference list.

Junior outside hitter Kearby Benak was selected as the Player of the Year. The three-time First Team honoree earned Rookie of the Year Recognition in 2010, and was an Honorable Mention All-American in 2011. Despite missing several games with injury mid-season, Benak leads the Eagles with 365 kills. In league play, Benak had 21 aces in six matches, and she is second on the team with 300 digs. 

Erin Hillman earned Rookie of the Year honors and received Honorable Mention from the League coaches. Hillman, an explosive outside hitter who currently has 212 kills, had her best matches in the toughest circumstances. She recorded double-figure kills in all three matches at the Wid Guisler Invitational at Juniata College. Eastern won two of three matches against nationally ranked competition. 

Mark Birtwistle earns his fourth Coach of the Year award in five years. The 23 year veteran is 560-190 for his career, and his squad has yet to drop a set in Freedom Conference play. Birtwistle had the task of retooling the Eastern attack after graduating five players and a pair of 4-time All-Americans from last year's Final Four team. The Eagles have stayed in the AVCA top 25 through the year and are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Kelly Groff and Katrina Pisch join Benak on the first team.

Groff is the most accomplished defensive player in Eastern University Volleyball history. The senior libero averages nearly five digs per set and is closing in on 2,000 for her career. If she collects 47 more digs this year, she will reach 500 digs for the third straight year. Only two other Eastern players have a 500 dig season. Had she not had to miss four matches for academic obligations, she would already be there. Birtwistle has on several occasions commented that Groff might be the most important player on the team. Her leadership in serve-receive and in defensive effort sets the tone for every point. She is second on the team with 36 aces.  

Pisch is the most efficient offensive player in the Freedom Conference. Only one player in the nation hits at a higher percentage. The sophomore middle hitter is hitting a ridiculous .436 for the year. Volleyball hitting percentages are calculated by subtracting errors (balls hit out of play or blocked for points) from kills and then dividing by hitting attempts. Typically the stat is comparable to baseball batting averages, .300 is really solid, .350 is special,  and anything over .400 is spectacular. In seven matches against Freedom Conference teams this Fall, Pisch is hitting .548 with 66 kills and only 9 errors. 

Lauren Sproles and Rachel Wenger earned spots on the second team. Sproles earned Freedom Rookie of the Year Honors in 2011. She is seventh in the conference in total kills and has hit .402 over her last four matches. Wenger, who earned All-Conference Honors as an opposite in her first two years, earns the recognition as a middle hitter in her senior season. She has 955 career kill, and she leads the Eagles in blocks with 65.

Eastern hosts DeSales in the Freedom Conference Championship match tomorrow at 2 pm. The winner earns the Freedom Conference's automatic bid to next week's NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Selection show will air Monday at 11. Click Here to see the show.  

Full All-Conference Release

Updated: Saturday, 03 November 2012


Mark Birtwistle

Mark Birtwistle

Coach Birtwistle has won more than 600 games and 16 Conference Championships as Eastern's Volleyball Coach

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