Senior provide foundation on court

With the sounds of saws and hammers in the background as construction continues in Lantz Arena, the Lady Panthers are working on some building projects of their own.

With high expectations and a No. 2 Ohio Valley Conference preseason ranking, the volleyball squad is looking to build on last year’s 18-13 season. At the team’s foundation are six returning seniors.

“They’ll be a big part of the success that we should have this year,” said second-year head coach Brenda Winkeler. “They’ve been here longer than I have so they have a lot of experience, which really helps a lot. This group was part of a conference title in 1998.”

Leading the way for EIU is one of the most heavily touted seniors in the OVC, Leslie Przekwas.

The 5-foot-11-inch middle hitter was named to the preseason all-conference first team this season after being named to the first squad in the conference last year.

Outside hitter Carrie Stevens has already proven to be the workhorse of the senior class.

“She’ll go through at least two shirts a practice,” said Winkeler. “She’s always diving on the sweaty gym floor, so by the time practices are over, she’s covered in sweat.”

But to Stevens, who finished in the second team all-conference selection last fall, the hard work is routine.

“I played three sports in high school and I’ve always been a hard worker,” Stevens said. “I think that if you’re a hard worker, the skills will just come naturally.”

Completing the foundation of seniors are outside hitters Amy Heimann and Kim Demage, middle hitter Marcia Hahn, and setter Rebecca Ooyen.

Heimann was named OVC Defensive Player of the Week for two consecutive weeks last season. Ooyen received OVC Offensive Player of the Week honors last fall. Hahn had a pair of 10-kill matches last year. Demage had only six reception errors all of last season.

While there’s plenty of depth on the squad this season, the real test for the Panthers will be to continually work as a team.

“I think that with female athletes, the chemistry between players is more important,” said Stevens. “We’re a close-knit group.”

Winkeler is banking the strong foundation of the seniors and the depth the underclassmen bring to build a conference title and an NCAA tournament bid.

“Our cohesiveness and the commitment of the team is our strength,” said Winkeler. “The leadership the seniors bring and their commitment will lead us through the season.”