‘Do or die’ for Eastern OVC tournament

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‘Do or die’ for Eastern OVC tournament

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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For the Eastern volleyball team, the time has come to punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament. However, a large obstacle, that is the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, lies in front of that once in a lifetime opportunity.

The Panthers will be a part of the opening match, when they take on the No. 3 seed Eastern Kentucky at 10 a.m. Thursday at Racer Arena in Murray, Ky. The No. 6 seed Panthers defeated the Colonels in three sets in their only matchup this year. Eastern coach Kate Price said she is hoping for a repeat performance, especially on defense.

“In practice we’ve been working on defending against an outside and middle attack in similar terms of what they do,” Price said. “They have two really important kids to them and we have to work to slow them down, and make sure the offense is on our side.”

Price was referring to attackers Alexis Plagens and Rachel Vick, who finished the regular season with 452 kills and 264 digs, and 353 kills and 93 digs, respectively. Vick also has 91 total blocks this year.

Plagens ranks in the top-10 in the OVC in kills, and has some familiar company on that list, in Eastern outside hitters Chelsea Lee and Abby Saalfrank. Saalfrank, who has 384 kills and lead the team with 437.5 points, said that even though the Panthers have never played a match this early time wise this year, they feel they can handle the early start to move on to Friday’s semifinal match.

“It is hard to play a 10 a.m. match, when we’re used to practicing in the afternoon and playing in the evening,” Saalfrank said. “Even some Saturday matches we play at 2 p.m. are rough. I don’t think it’s anything we can’t handle. We’ll be fine and show up ready to go.”

It will also be a memorable experience for team co-captain and defensive specialist, Kelsey Brooke, who will play in her final conference tournament this weekend.

“I think we have a really great chance of winning the whole thing,” Brooke said. “We have the skills and it’s just a matter of making sure we can all connect on the floor, and play how we know we should play.”

Having been a part of the program for the last five years, the red-shirt senior Brooke is not intimidated by the early start time.

“I don’t really think it is a mental or physical challenge,” she said. “We have a morning practice on Thursday mornings, so we’re used to waking up and getting going early.”

This is the third straight year the Panthers have advanced to the conference tournament, but they have dropped their last three opening-round matches. Price hopes to change all that by using a clean slate to win this tournament.

“It’s important they come out and know what’s riding on it, but at the same time, that they enjoy the OVC’s and know they did a lot of work to get there,” Price said. “Now, everyone’s slate is clean and now you have to win. Do or die.”

A win on Thursday would propel the Panthers to a semifinal matchup with either No. 2 seed Belmont or No. 7 seed Austin Peay, which will play right after Eastern.

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