Volleyball drops regular season finale to Tennessee State

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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The Eastern volleyball team closed out the regular season with a five-set loss to Tennessee State on Saturday. Because of that loss the Panthers will go into the Ohio Valley Conference tournament next week as the number six seed and will take on the third-seeded Eastern Kentucky Colonels Thursday at 10 a.m.

Junior outside hitter Abby Saalfrank picked up her 13th double-double of the season and 14th of her career for the Panthers, who had five players reach double digit kills. Fellow juniors Chelsea Lee and Kayla Nesbitt chipped in 15 and 12 kills, respectively, while Lee also tallied seven digs.

“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,” Eastern head coach Kate Price said.

Eastern setter Marah Bradbury also finished with a double-double, following a 62 assist, 10 dig performance, giving her 32 digs for her career.

Newcomers Josie Winner and Allie Hueston were the other Panther attackers to accomplish double-digit kills. Winner had 14 kills, to go along with one assist, one dig and one assisted block, while Hueston had 13 kills, four digs and two assisted blocks.

The Panthers both the first and third sets by scores of 25-22 and 25-21, but the Tigers eked out the overtime victory with wins of 26-24 in the second set, and 25-22 in the fourth set. They eventually won the final set by a score of 15-12 on senior night.

The loss snaps a five match winning streak for the Panthers, who hadn’t lost since October 31st.

Tennessee State’s Naomi Wells ended her collegiate career with a big performance for the Tigers. The outside hitter from Huntsville, Ala., picked up her 15th double-double of the year with 23 kills and 19 digs, along with four blocks and three assists.

The Tigers finished the season with a 10-21 record, and a 4-12 record in OVC play, and finished 11th in the 12 team conference.

“It was their senior night, so there was a lot of emotion behind that game,” Price said. “Wells has been a good player on their right side for several years, and she helped make it a tough game.”

The Panthers finished the season tied for sixth place with Austin Peay, but won the tiebreaker, having beaten the Governors twice this season.

Their match will be the first match of the three day tournament at Murray State, who won the right to host the tournament, after winning the OVC regular season title. The Panthers faced the Colonels in the first round last year, but were defeated by them, something that Price said Eastern’s upper class is trying to make sure that won’t happen this year.

“Seeing that we’ve lost the last three conference tournaments in the first game, the upper class leadership we have has really been focusing on those things, trying to get the freshman through junior class to know that this isn’t going to happen again.”

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