Volleyball team returns home Friday for OVC play

Sophomore+outside+hitter+Taylor+Smith+kills+the+ball+during+the+Panthers%E2%80%99+match+against+Drake+on+Sept.+9%2C+2016%2C+in+Lantz+Arena.+Eastern+lost%2C+3-1.+The+Panthers+return+home+tonight+to+face+Belmont.
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Volleyball team returns home Friday for OVC play

Sophomore outside hitter Taylor Smith kills the ball during the Panthers’ match against Drake on Sept. 9, 2016, in Lantz Arena. Eastern lost, 3-1. The Panthers return home tonight to face Belmont.

Sophomore outside hitter Taylor Smith kills the ball during the Panthers’ match against Drake on Sept. 9, 2016, in Lantz Arena. Eastern lost, 3-1. The Panthers return home tonight to face Belmont.

Bryan Bund

Sophomore outside hitter Taylor Smith kills the ball during the Panthers’ match against Drake on Sept. 9, 2016, in Lantz Arena. Eastern lost, 3-1. The Panthers return home tonight to face Belmont.

Bryan Bund

Bryan Bund

Sophomore outside hitter Taylor Smith kills the ball during the Panthers’ match against Drake on Sept. 9, 2016, in Lantz Arena. Eastern lost, 3-1. The Panthers return home tonight to face Belmont.

Maher Kawash, Volleyball Reporter

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Ohio Valley Conference play did not begin the way many expected for the Eastern volleyball team, but there is still plenty of time to turn it around.

The Panthers have an opportunity to gain some momentum as they return to Lantz Arena tonight for the first home conference match of the season.

Eastern faces a conference-foe in the Belmont Bruins, and history is not on its side.

A year ago, the Panthers fell to the Bruins in four sets, but they return this year looking much different.

Eastern continues to move along in the season with no seniors and is still trying to grow as each game moves by.

The Panthers got off to a rough start Wednesday night as they fell in straight sets to Southern Illinois Edwardsville.

Eastern had a chance in the first set, as it once held a 7-0 lead, but the Panthers could not keep up the rest of the way.

That has been the story for this young Panther team this season.

The team has showed sparks of being great, then follows that with inexperience to cost them the match.

That can be expected with a team that has no seniors to lead the way, but the Panthers have been able to rely on sophomore Taylor Smith as just one of the many women to emerge this season.

Smith is the Division I leader in triple-doubles, and she will try to lead Eastern to its first OVC win of the season.

It will not be an easy task as the Bruins come into Friday’s match at 7-4 overall and 1-0 in the conference.

With that being said, Belmont also has the all-time series advantage between the two teams.

The Bruins have won all six matches in program history against the Panthers, and their first OVC win this season came against Tennessee State.

Arianna Person has been the anchor for Belmont on the offensive end, posting 140 kills on the season and averaging 3.68 per set.

It does not get much easier for the Panthers on the offensive end either as Ellie Ivancich holds down the defensive end for the Bruins.

Ivancich leads the team with 113 digs on the year while averaging 2.97 per set.

The Panthers will counter those two leaders with some weapons of their own.

Freshman Maggie Runge continues to lead Eastern in blocks with 66, and she leads the OVC in blocks-per-set with a 1.25 average.

Sophomore Abby Knight is also having a strong second campaign as she has recorded 55 total blocks this season while averaging 1.00 per set.

As a team, the Panthers have succeeded on the defensive end, ranking second in the conference with a 2.38 block-per-set average.

Eastern also ranks eighth in the OVC with its 14.25 digs-per-set.

Following this match with the Bruins, the Panthers begin a three-game road trip.

That trip will start with a midweek match against Indiana State, and follow with a weekend set against Southeast Missouri State.

The matchup against Belmont tips off Friday at 6 p.m. in Lantz Arena.

Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]