Eastern sets off OVC with Tech, J-State

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Eastern sets off OVC with Tech, J-State

Marah Bradbury, a junior setter, prepares to bump the ball during practice in Lantz Arena on Sept. 4, 2013.

Marah Bradbury, a junior setter, prepares to bump the ball during practice in Lantz Arena on Sept. 4, 2013.

File Photo

Marah Bradbury, a junior setter, prepares to bump the ball during practice in Lantz Arena on Sept. 4, 2013.

File Photo

File Photo

Marah Bradbury, a junior setter, prepares to bump the ball during practice in Lantz Arena on Sept. 4, 2013.

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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The long wait is finally over for the Eastern volleyball team.

The Panthers’ Ohio Valley Conference play begins this weekend, when the Panthers travel to Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

The Panthers start their conference season, with a 6-7 record, following tournaments at Penn State and South Dakota State.

They combined for a record of 2-5 in those tournaments, but Eastern coach Kate Price said her team is in good position to make a good run this season.

“We ironed out some kinks we had during the previous weekend, and that was our goal,” Price said. “We’ve moved forward as a team instead of as individuals, which is a huge positive and what we’ve been looking forward to all week.”

A few Panthers said practice sessions have been more up-tempo this week, most notably setter Marah Bradbury.

“Our energy is high going into conference,” she said. “We’re very excited about playing teams that count towards the conference tournament.”

Friday’s opponent, Tennessee Tech, comes into the match with a 4-11 record, but despite that record, Price is not overlooking the Golden Eagles.

“If you aren’t focused on every team in this sport, then they’ll put you in your place,” Price said. “Every night is a big match, and you have to take it that way.”

Tennessee Tech’s right-side attacker Cody Dodd has impressed the Panther coaching staff during this week’s film session, and Price said it would be up to the outside blockers to limit her production.

Jacksonville State, which the Panthers play Saturday, is currently 6-8 thus far, and is led by center Nicole Merget.

She had a combined 31 kills in the Gamecock’s last tournament at Auburn.

“Merget’s been taking some big swings this year, and we need to slow her down if we’re going to be successful,” Price said.

Freshman Allie Hueston has been one of those players tasked with limiting Merget for Eastern.

“They want me to focus on a certain ball that she’s going to hit,” Hueston said. “So we’ve been practicing blocking those shots, mostly this week.”

The match against the Gamecocks begins at 2 p.m. Saturday in Jacksonville, Ala.

Eastern outside hitter Chelsea Lee said the Panthers are looking forward to playing against one of their biggest rivals.

“Jacksonville State is usually one of our biggest rivals, but if we practice like we did this week, I believe we can handle them pretty well,” she said.

Practices this week have also been more team-oriented, Hueston and Bradbury said.

“We’re focusing more on what we need to do as a team, rather than individual stuff,” Hueston said. “It hasn’t got much harder, just more focused.”

Eastern starts OVC play at 7 p.m. Friday in Cookeville, Tenn., against the Golden Eagles.

Blake Nash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]