Eastern volleyball knocked out of OVC tournament

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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MURRAY, Ky. — Tennessee Tech was the first Ohio Valley Conference team the Eastern volleyball team played this year, and they were also the last as the Golden Eagles knocked the Panthers out of the OVC tournament in the first round.

The Golden Eagles won the match 3-2 in a very close battle the whole way.

Close would be an understatement to describe this match as each set was won by two points apiece. The fourth and fifth set even needed to be extended past 25 and 15. The Golden Eagles won the fourth set 26-24 and the fifth set 16-14.

The match started in the Panthers’ favor as they came out on top in the first set in a back and forth battle.

Eastern would go on to lose the second set 25-23 and win the third 25-23 as well, but Tennessee Tech won in the fourth to stay alive and end Eastern’s run in the tournament, by winning the fifth.

For Eastern, this was a tough way to end its season coach Sam Wolinski said.

“We’ve fought hard all year, we’ve been resilient, we’ve always done that,” Wolinski said. “That’s a tried and true testament to the team.”

Eastern trailed at many points in the match, but was always able to keep the set in reach and not let Tennessee Tech get easy wins.

The Panthers had five players earn double-digit kills. Sophomore Allie Hueston led the team with 14 kills, senior Abby Saalfrank had 13, red-shirt sophomore Josie Winner had 12, senior Chelsea Lee had 11 and senior Kayla Nesbitt had 10.

One thing that hurt the Panthers was they made too many hitting errors Wolinski said.

“What we didn’t do well is we made way too many hitting errors,” Wolinski said. “We weren’t able to terminate and earn points on our attacking the way we needed to consistently, and that’s what really hurt us down the stretch.”

With Marah Bradbury unable to play, freshman Nicole Schaldt saw a lot of playing time, and stepped up and was able to lead the Panthers’ defense in digs. Fellow freshmen Taylor Smith and Anne Hughes also earned a lot of digs with 16 in the game.

Wolinski said they came in strong and did a great job earning those digs.

But for seniors Stephanie Wallace, Bradbury, Lee, Nesbitt and Saalfrank, this is the last time they will suit up as Panthers and play volleyball for Eastern.

“We have five seniors who busted their butt for Eastern Illinois volleyball the last four years and they’re a big reason why we had such a great season this year,” Wolinski said. “They gave it their all and that’s all you can ask. For coach (Peter) Green and I, it was a pleasure to have the chance to coach them this year.”

The 2015 season may be over but the Eastern volleyball program has a bright future Wolinski said.
“This loss hurts right now for all of us, but I don’t think it takes away from what we’ve done this season,” Wolinski said. “You can see that the future is bright for us and the program.”

Eastern finished with an 11-6 record in conference, with a few players earning personal accolades throughout the year.

 

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]