Smith brings one year of experience to help Panthers

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

There is not one senior on the Eastern volleyball team, which means players are looking for guidance from younger teammates, including sophomore Taylor Smith and junior Maria Brown.

Red-shirt junior Josie Winner is the oldest player on the team, but still has only two years of experience coming into the season.

As just a freshman, Smith was a regular on the floor for the Panthers and had a dominating season in her first year. The 2015-16 season was also Brown’s first season where she saw consistent playing time.

Smith’s versatility on the floor is what makes her the player that she is. She can do everything from kills, sets, to digs. In 2015, Smith recorded 331 digs, 189 kills, and 634 assists.

Now in her sophomore season, Smith is one of the leaders on this young and inexperienced Panther volleyball team. Even though she is just a sophomore, she does not feel the pressure, but rather it makes her want to be better herself.

In Tuesday night’s home opener, the Panthers fell to the Butler Bulldogs in five sets, losing a 2-1 match-lead.

Smith led the way offensively for the Panthers, but it just was not enough to get by the Bulldogs.

The Panthers were able to get their freshmen involved, including Katie Sommer and Maggie Runge. It is having the young team that makes Smith want to be even better, so the players can feed off each other.

“I just feel like I need to bring what I brought last year,” Smith said. “I just need to bring the energy and really play my game and support (the younger players).”

The Panthers are now 0-4 to start their season after winning just one set over the weekend in the Green Bay tournament, but Tuesday’s match was a step in the right direction for Eastern in terms of building team chemistry.

Eastern has five freshmen, one transfer junior and one red-shirt freshman on the team, meaning they have not played together. Smith wanted to see the team come together Tuesday, and that is what they did, she said.

Coach Sam Wolinksi said Winner, Brown and Smith will be helping out the “newbies,” as she called them.

“I think they got more comfortable and more confident in each other, and that helped a lot and that showed out there today,” Wolinksi said.

Eastern dropped the first set 25-13, but something sparked them in the next three sets and even the fifth set, almost looking like a different Panther team.

For Brown, she got some playing time in her freshman year, but her sophomore year was where she saw the most playing time, earning her a captain honor for the 2016-17 season.

Like Smith, Brown was everywhere on the court Tuesday, having the second most kills and recording the most digs. Some of those digs coming late in the match were key moments to help lead the Panthers to their set wins.

It is a long season, and it is still early, and the way the Panthers were able to put up a fight against “the best team they’ve seen so far,” gives some hope that this young team can come together, look to the players who have spent a full season playing for guidance and win some matches.