Volleyball sweeps weekend action; moves up 2 spots

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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The final home weekend of the season turned out to be a season changer for the Eastern volleyball team.

The Panthers swept both of their opponents, Eastern Kentucky on Friday and Morehead State on Saturday in Lantz Arena, to move up two spots to No. 6 in the Ohio Valley Conference standings, improving their positioning for the conference tournament.

Junior outside hitter Abby Saalfrank finished with 19 kills and 10 digs on Friday, 15 kills and 14 digs on Saturday, to give her 12 double-doubles on the season and 13 for her Eastern career. She led the Panthers in kills for both matches.

Friday’s match pitted the Panthers against the second place Colonels, who ended the Panthers’ season last year. The Panthers succeeded in getting their vengeance by sweeping the Colonels, 25-22, 25-19 and 25-20.

The Colonels are now third in the OVC standings, having dropped both weekend matches, including Saturday’s loss to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.

Setter Marah Bradbury also nabbed a double-double on Friday, with 45 assists and 11 digs, giving her 31 for her career as a Panther. She led her team to a .290 attack average, while also nailing four kills of her own off seven attacks and no errors for a .571 clip

Red-shirt freshman Josie Winner also scored double-digit kills against Eastern Kentucky. The Osgood, Ohio native posted 10 kills, and scored the Panthers’ only solo block. Defensively, Stephanie Wallace and Kelsey Brooke totaled 15 digs apiece, while Dakota Springer also totaled double-digits with 11.

Saturday’s match against Morehead State began with a pre-match ceremony honoring the Eastern seniors including Brooke, Springer, middle blocker Kelsey Roggemann and outside hitter Katie Kirby.

The match itself was very similar to the night before. Saalfrank repeated her performance from the previous night, with another double-double, while fellow junior Chelsea Lee added 12 kills of her own, along with three blocks.

The Panthers led the opening set from start to finish, and won 25-20, but faced a tough challenge from the defending OVC champion Eagles in the second set. The set was back-and-forth until the 13 point mark, until the Eagles suffered two straight errors, and Winner followed through with a kill to give the Panthers a three-point cushion.

The Eagles, led by senior Laura McDermott’s eight kills, were able to shrink the deficit to one point, 21-20, but were unable to tie the game, and wound up with the 25-21 loss. The Panthers momentum transferred over to the third set, especially on defense.

Three Panthers recorded double-digit digs including Wallace with 18, Saalfrank with 14 and Brooke with 11. That trio enabled the Panthers to maintain at least an eight to nine point advantage en route to the 25-15 final set victory.

With the two sweeps, the Panthers improved their chances of returning to the OVC tournament, with one week of regular season play remaining. Eastern returns to action against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Edwardsville.

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