Volleyball looks to improve tournament seed at Tennessee State

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Volleyball looks to improve tournament seed at Tennessee State

Junior outside hitter Abby Saalfrank leaps to hit the ball during the Panthers' 3-0 win over Morehead State on Nov. 8.

Junior outside hitter Abby Saalfrank leaps to hit the ball during the Panthers' 3-0 win over Morehead State on Nov. 8.

Jason Howell

Junior outside hitter Abby Saalfrank leaps to hit the ball during the Panthers' 3-0 win over Morehead State on Nov. 8.

Jason Howell

Jason Howell

Junior outside hitter Abby Saalfrank leaps to hit the ball during the Panthers' 3-0 win over Morehead State on Nov. 8.

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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Eastern volleyball coach Kate Price is aware of how well her team has been playing during the last two weeks. The Eastern volleyball team has won four straight games for the first time this season and finds itself in prime position for the Ohio Valley Conference tournament next week.

However, only one game separates the Panthers from a higher seed and that is this weekend’s opponent in Tennessee State, which starts at 5 p.m. Saturday in Nashville, Tenn.

Although the Tigers have a 9-21 overall record and 3-9 OVC record, Price is taking this match seriously, knowing a win would improve Eastern’s seeding at the OVC tournament.

“If we do beat them it’ll put us in a higher seed in the tournament, but Tennessee State is a good team,” Price said. “They’ve just had to play everybody that we’ve been playing.”

It will also be senior night for the Tigers, which Price believes will provide them with more emotion.

“They have at least one really good senior on their right side, we’ve seen for quite a few years,” Price said. “It’s a situation where I think it’ll be a tough match.”

The Panthers have not been unfamiliar with the term, tough, as of late. The Panthers have won their last four games, and even had a huge comeback against Southeast Missouri three weeks ago, which saw the Panthers, come back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game and send it into a fifth set. They eventually lost, but have only surrendered one set since.

Junior outside hitters Abby Saalfrank and Chelsea Lee said that the Panthers have been getting in extra work recently, outside of practice, which has made the difference lately.

“All the hitters have been getting together and getting extra reps in,” Lee said.

Saalfrank said that competitive contests have also helped during those sessions.

“We have bounce contests sometimes with coach Sweitzer, to see who can score more kills and hits the hardest,” she said. “We’ve also been getting in the gym a lot more than what we usually do, and have been getting more passing reps in.”

Price said having the middle hitters being active lately, has helped those two be difficult to defend.

“Our middles have been great in transition lately,” Price said. “That’s a big part of what we’re trying to offensively. If we have three hitters going at one point in time, it’s tough to decide on where the blockers can cheat, and it kind of holds them honest a little bit more as blockers.”

Returning starters, who realize that playing well at the end of the season is important, have also been focused on making sure their teammates are prepared for the late season push.

“We just need to stay focused on this match because even though the conference tournament is coming, we need to secure a top spot, and finish the conference season strong,” Lee said.

Saalfrank said a win on Saturday would be great for team morale before the postseason tournament.

“Coming off a five-match winning streak will be a great confidence boost heading into the tournament,” Saalfrank said. “It’d be a good way to start off the tournament.”

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