Panthers drop two on opening weekend

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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The excitement of the Ohio Valley Conference season opener was quickly replaced by heartache for the Eastern volleyball team.

The Panthers dropped a 3-1 decision to Tennessee Tech, Friday, and a five-set loss to Jacksonville State Saturday that dropped Eastern’s record to 6-9 and 0-2 to begin OVC play.

Chelsea Lee led the Panthers in kills both games, with 14 on Friday and 20 on Saturday.

On Saturday, Eastern lost the first set 27-25, before rallying to take the next two 25-22 and 30-28. The Gamecocks then took the next two sets by two points, apiece, giving the Panthers their second loss in as many plays.

The Panthers had five attackers who finished with double-digit kills, along with Lee. Josie Winner and Abby Saalfrank added 14 kills apiece, while Allie Hueston chipped in with 12, and Kayla Nesbitt with 11. Winner led the Panthers attack average with a clip of .462.

On the defensive side, the Panthers were led by Hueston and libero Stephanie Wallace. Hueston posted six blocks against a strong Gamecock front line, led by Nicole Merget who finished with 21 kills.

Wallace upped 19 Jacksonville State attacks to lead Eastern in digs. Seniors Dakota Springer and Kelsey Brooke also registered 15 and 12 dig tallies, respectively

Following the game, Wallace said that the Panthers struggled to put together lengthy runs, which will hopefully be better in Wednesday’s home opener.

“Hopefully being at home all next week, with our fans cheering us on, will give us more energy and we can move on,” Wallace said.

On Friday against Tennessee Tech, the Panthers fell short in the first two sets, by scores of 25-21 and 26-24. Eastern took the next set 25-22, before falling by that very score in the deciding fourth set.

Along with Lee’s 14 kills, Hueston led Eastern with 10 kills. Other team leaders were Wallace, who led the team with 29 digs, and setter Marah Bradbury, who finished with 33 assists. She nearly doubled that total the next day, with 63 against Jacksonville State.

Tennessee Tech was led by Cody Dodd and Kellie Williams, who finished with 19 and 15 kills, respectively. Eastern coach Kate Price was impressed by Dodd, who finished with a .310 clip, to lead all players on the court.

“You’ve got to give her all the credit, she showed why she’s one of the best players in the conference,” Price said. “Just a great all-around player.”

Dodd added 22 digs to her kills, to finish with her fourth double-double of the season.

The Panthers have now opened OVC play 0-2 for the seventh time, since joining the conference in 1996.

Eastern plays its conference home opener, starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Lantz Arena, where the Panthers will host in-state rival Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.

Blake Nash can be reached at 581-281 or [email protected]