The Eastern volleyball team has dominated almost every team it has faced this year winning all matches 3-1 or 3-0. Southeast Missouri changed that on Saturday forcing the Panthers to go five sets.
The Panthers hosted and defeated SEMO on Saturday and defeated UT Martin 3-1 on Friday in Lantz Arena.
Eastern defeated SEMO in five sets 3-2 in a very close battle. Eastern was even facing elimination being down 2-1.
The Panthers won the first set 25-22 in a set that consisted of the Eastern and SEMO trading points back and forth for most of the way.
The longest scoring run that either team had was three points. Eastern went on two 3 point scoring runs with one at the end that helped the Panthers get a 23-19 lead.
SEMO was able to pull out a 26-24 win in the second set, a match that seemed to be won by Eastern.
Eastern had 24-20 lead but a 6-0 run by the Redhawks ended the second set in favor of SEMO 26-24.
The Redhawks also won the third set 25-20 only needing to win one more to win the match but Eastern came out and go the key win in the fourth set 25-17.
Once again scoring runs were key as Eastern went on a 5-0 scoring run to go up 8-4 and never trailed again.
Eastern had to play comeback at the end of the fifth set to get the 16-14 win.
Eastern was down 14-13 not being able to give up a point to SEMO, scored three straight to get the win.
The Panthers were shorthanded in the match as they were without senior Abby Saalfrank and freshman Nicole Schladt.
Saalfrank is usually relied on to get a lot of kills and Schaldt is out there to get some digs for the Eastern defense, but that didn’t stop the Panthers from getting 79 kills and 94 digs.
Sophomore Allie Hueston led with 17 kills and freshman Taylor Smith led with 22 digs.
SEMO only had 63 kills and 80 digs.
SEMO was 3-4 coming into the match but senior Stephanie Wallace and the rest of the Panthers knew that didn’t mean anything.
“SEMO has always been a big rivalry for us in conference and always seems to go five sets,” Wallace said. “So we knew it would be tough and they weren’t going to give up at all.”
Wallace said that they will have to keep playing that tough all throughout the season.
Eastern coach Sam Wolinski called this a great win against SEMO.
“Today was a very gritty win for our team,” Wolinski said. “After dropping that second set while up 24-21 the team was determined to find a way when we started the fourth set.”
She said the team’s aggressiveness picked up and having four players with double digit kills and digs played a big role in the win.
The match against UT Martin was not as close as Saturday’s but a win is a win.
Eastern won the first two sets 25-16 and 25-18, UT Martin won the third 26-24 and Eastern won the fourth 25-19.
The Panthers were able to go on long scoring runs that enabled them to get big leads and hold them.
“Our aggressive serving and defense allowed us to get on long runs and maintain those leads most of the time,” Wallace said.
Redshirt sophomore Josie Winner has stepped up in Saalfrank’s absence and getting a lot of kills for the Panthers.
Winner had eight in the match.
“Josie has come back to (do) a great job playing in the middle,” Wolinski said. “It’s great to have our middles playing at a high level.”
Eastern is now 6-2 in OVC play and will take on Austin Peay and Murray State this weekend.
Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]