With the momentum of two straight wins on its side, the Eastern volleyball team heads into a crucial weekend.
The Panthers will host the EIU Panther Classic beginning Friday in Lantz Arena, and this can be seen as a potential turning point of their season.
Eastern is coming into the four-team tournament with a 2-6 record this season, and the most recent wins came at the hands of Jackson State and Western Illinois.
This weekend marks the first time the Panthers are hosting a regular season tournament since 2008.
Drake can be said to be the top dog of the tournament, coming in with the best overall record of the four teams at 6-2.
Drake is led on the offensive side by Kyla Inderski, as she leads her team in kills with 124 while no other player on the roster has more than 75.
On the defensive side, Michelle Thommi leads the way for Drake as she has posted 165 digs on the year.
The Panthers will open tournament play against Drake, and will need the efforts of sophomore Taylor Smith and junior Maria Brown.
Smith and Brown have emerged as the leaders on the team with the play on the court.
Smith leads NCAA Division I volleyball in triple-doubles this season as the second year Panther has three on the young season.
Two of those triple-doubles have come in the past two games as Smith has led her team to two straight wins.
But it has not stopped there for Eastern as some other women have risen to the occasion considering how young the team is this year.
Brown has been consistent all season long and has back-to-back double-doubles to show for it.
She earned her third double-double of the season with her performance against Western, helping the Panthers with 10 kills and 14 digs.
Brown was not the only one though as five players recorded double-doubles against the Leathernecks Tuesday night.
Eastern follows the match against Drake with a match against Bowling Green. Bowling Green is 4-0 all-time against the Panthers, and come into play this time around with an even 3-3 record on the season.
After Eastern tries to earn its first win in program history against Bowling Green, the team will wrap up tournament play against Louisiana Tech.
Louisiana Tech handed the Panthers a 3-1 loss earlier in the season, and are coming into this tournament at 4-3 overall.
Defense will be key in all these matches for Eastern, and freshman Maggie Runge has been the answer on that side of the ball for the Panthers this season.
Runge is tied for seventh in blocks in all of Division I at 40 on the season, and is just eight shy of leading the nation.
Runge and the Panthers will follow the EIU Panther Classic with another road stint, traveling to Mississippi for a tournament beginning Sept. 16.
Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]