Panthers face familiar foes at Martin and SEMO

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Panthers face familiar foes at Martin and SEMO




Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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The Eastern volleyball will continue its Ohio Valley Conference season this weekend, with matches at Tennessee-Martin on Friday and Southeast Missouri on Saturday.

Eastern’s middle hitter Allie Hueston, despite being a freshman, will find a familiar opponent playing for the Skyhawks on Friday, in Tennessee-Martin setter Madison Bergren.

Hueston and Bergren were high school rivals from Anderson and Muncie, Ind., respectively. They were also teammates during club play last summer for the Munciana Samurai Volleyball Club in Muncie.

“We played together this past year during club season,” Hueston said. “We even finished second at Nationals and played against each other during the high school season.”

Munciana finished last season as the runner-up at the AAU Nationals in the 18 Open division after posting a remarkable record of 76-5 during the club season. Both players were frequent all-conference players, with Hueston making the all-Hoosier Heritage Conference team all four years in high school.

As for their teams, the Panthers come into Friday’s matchup with an 8-11 overall record, while the Skyhawks are currently 9-11. Both teams are an identical 2-4 in OVC play.

Eastern has currently faced four of the conference’s top five teams, but Panthers’ head Coach Kate Price said that records do not have much meaning to her.

“Records do not mean much to me,” she said. “I think every weekend in the OVC is a tough weekend.”

Bergren, one of the Skyhawks’ top players, currently leads the team with 782 assists this season, while Eastern’s Marah Bradbury has accounted for 829 assists for the Panthers. Both are in the conference’s top five in that category.

Southeast Missouri, Saturday’s opponent for the Panthers, has an identical 2-4 OVC record, while its overall record is 6-14. The Redhawks have only played three home games this season with one win and have one of the conference’s best blockers in Nzingha Clarke.

Clarke’s 28 blocks are the best in the OVC, just ahead of Tennessee-Martin’s Mandy Glon, who has 18.

“I think they each have a few key kids that we need to work to contain,” Price said. “But they are going to be tough opponents and we need to expect to have to go into their gyms and fight for every point.”

Another member of the Eastern freshman class finds herself with a new challenge. Last Saturday, Maria Brown played her first game as a member of the back row, tallying her first double-double with 16 kills and 21 digs, despite having played front row throughout the first half of the season.

Price has not decided if Brown will become a routine member of the starting back row, but will make that call after practice this week.

“Maria did play as the six rotation outside hitter,” Price said. “However, we will see what practice shows us this week. Positions are earned every day in practice.”

First serve for the Tennessee-Martin game will be at 7 p.m. on Friday in Martin, Tenn., while the Southeast Missouri game will start at 5 p.m. in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

“Our freshmen have earned big roles which will definitely help them in the future,” Price said.  “I am looking at this weekend and I hope that experience helps them.”

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