The new school year brings the start of Eastern’s fall sport seasons. The Eastern football team, volleyball team, men’s soccer team, women’s soccer team and men’s and women’s cross country teams’ seasons will all begin in the next week.
After a second-place Ohio Valley Conference finish and a first-round playoff loss in 2015, the Eastern football team will play its first game at O’Brien Field Sept. 1 against Western.
The Panthers finished the 2015 season with a 7-5 record and the OVC Media Preseason Poll has them finishing third in the conference. They were also picked just outside the FCS top-25 in the preseason poll.
Eastern is returning 15 starters from last year’s team including senior linebacker Seth McDonald, redshirt senior running back Devin Church, and junior safety Bradley Dewberry, who were all selected to the preseason All-OVC preseason team.
Third-year head coach Kim Dameron looks to lead the Panthers to their fourth playoff appearance in the last five years.
The Panthers home game schedule includes the opener Sept. 1 against Western, Sept. 24 against Austin Peay (Family Weekend), Oct. 8 against Tennessee State, Oct. 22 against Murray State and Nov. 5 against University of Tennesee-Martin.
Eastern will play OVC champion Jacksonville State on the road Oct. 29.
Also gearing up for the 2016 fall season is the Eastern volleyball team led by coach Sam Wolinski, who is in her second year with the team after coaching the team to a 16-15 record in her first season. The Panthers finished 11-5 in OVC play and 7-2 at home.
Eastern lost a few key components from last year’s team to graduation including Chelsea Lee, Kayla Nesbitt, Abby Saalfrank, Stephanie Wallace and Marah Bradbury.
Wallace was the team’s libero and broke the career digs record early in her senior season. Lee and Saalfrank were reliant outside hitters for the Panthers, and Bradbury was a key setter.
2015 did see some young talent make impacts on the team, including sophomore Taylor Smith.
In her freshman season, Smith was very versatile and was utilized almost everywhere on the court. She recorded 189 kills, 634 sets and 331 digs in 130 sets played.
Smith was named to the OVC All-Newcomer team.
The Panthers’ roster does not list any seniors this year, but it does have four juniors on the team including Maria Brown, Allie Hueston, red-shirt junior Josie Winner and transfer Hayley Richardson.
Hueston was named to the All-OVC team in 2015.
The Panthers will play a series of non-conference invites before opening up OVC play at Southern Illinois Edwardsville Sept. 21. They will play their first home game in Lantz Arena against Belmont Sept. 23.
The men’s and women’s cross country teams will also be in action this fall with senior Riley McInerney leading the way for the men and junior Maria Baldwin pacing the women’s team.
McInerney was named to the All-OVC team in 2015 and the All-Midwest Region team. Baldwin was also named to the All-OVC team in 2015 as a sophomore.
The Panthers will host the EIU Walt Crawford meet Sept. 2 before hitting the road for four meets leading up to the OVC Championship Oct. 29.
The men’s and women’s soccer teams will also be in action in the fall with Kiki Lara directing both teams.
The men struggled to find the win column in 2015, finishing the season 3-14.
Eastern will return junior goalkeeper Mike Novotny and junior twins Tyler and Justin Oliver. Tyler led the Panthers with nine points, netting four goals and recording one assist. Justin Oliver recorded six points with two goals and two assists.
Trevor Kerns is also back for the Panthers entering his second year after netting three goals and scoring eight points in 2015 as a freshman.
The Panthers will open regular season play at Northern Kentucky Aug. 26 and have their regular season home opener Aug. 28 against Milwaukee.
The men’s soccer team plays in the Summit League, not the OVC.
The women finished their 2015 season with a 4-13-2 record.
Eastern will have to find new forces on offense as the team’s top-two scorers from 2015, Molly Hawkins and Hannah Miller, graduated.
Hawkins netted seven goals to give herself 16 points to go along with her two assists. Miller was right behind her with five goals for 10 points.
Kathleen MacKinnon showed promise as a junior, scoring one goal and dishing out three assists.
The Panthers’ home opener is Sept. 4 against Indiana State.
Students can attend all games for free if they show their Panther Card at the door.
Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]