Panther volleyball team remains winless at home

Sean Hastings and Maher Kawash

Freshman Katie Sommer goes up for the block on Austin Peay's kill attempt. The Panthers lost the match 3-0 Friday night in Lantz Arena.
Bryan Bund
Freshman Katie Sommer goes up for the block on Austin Peay’s kill attempt. The Panthers lost the match 3-0 Friday night in Lantz Arena.

A team’s home court is usually where most of its success is found, but that has not been the case for the Eastern volleyball team.

The Panthers returned home this past weekend to begin a four-match home stand with an 0-5 record in Lantz Arena, and that did not improve against two of the top teams in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Eastern struggled from beginning to end against Austin Peay and Murray State, and those games resulted in two more home losses.

The toughest part of the weekend for the Panthers was having to face Murray State Saturday without one of their top players.

Sophomore Taylor Smith went down with an ankle injury against Austin Peay Friday night, and in result, Eastern had to play the rest of the weekend without the Division I-leader in triple-doubles.

But the struggles went beyond Smith not being able to play, as Eastern followed the trend it has for most of the season.

The Panthers hung in there with Murray State in the first set with the score tied at 16 heading into the final stretch.

But this set and match was another example of Eastern falling just short as the Racers rallied for a 5-0 run and went on to take the first set, 25-20.

Eastern coach Sam Wolinski said Friday night that if Eastern was going to have success against Murray State, and really any team, they cannot let them go on four to five point runs.

The following sets did not offer much more success for the Panthers as they dropped both, 25-18, as well as fell to 4-17 on the season.

“Losing Taylor on Friday night was a loss for sure, but I thought we did a good job responding with the 5-1 overall on Saturday,” Wolinski said.

The loss to Murray State handed Eastern a 1-5 record on the season, while dropping the team to 0-7 in Lantz Arena.

“I think the last two weeks we have made some solid improvements, and need to keep bettering ourselves as the rave for the OVC tourney is still wide open,” Wolinski said.

Although the Panthers dropped another match, some improvements were still evident.

Freshman Katie Sommer continues to emerge in her first year, and she added another four kills and four blocks against Murray State.

Redshirt junior Josie Winner stepped up by leading the Panthers with eight kills and 10 digs, while junior Allie Hueston led both teams with five blocks.

Friday night against Austin Peay, the Panthers were down most of the first set but were able to keep it close with the Governors. Eastern trailed, 24-21, but rallied back to take the lead, 25-24.

Eastern was unable to put away Austin Peay with the 25-24 lead, and also with a 26-25 lead.

Austin Peay got back-to-back kills and eventually won 28-26 off a ball-handling error by redshirt freshman Gina Furlin.

Wolinski said the way the Panthers were able to fight back from the early deficit, but when the time came to end the set, they were unable to put a ball down.

The second set was similar in a way, except Eastern had a 19-14 lead, but blew the lead and ended up losing 27-25.

One thing that stood out is Eastern was playing much smoother than in recent matches.

“We’ve gotten better in the last few weeks, and that’s why there’s a lot more fluidity,” Wolinski said.

The third set was just tough for the Panthers all around. Austin Peay jumped out to 4-0 lead and kept rolling.

And early in the third set is when Smith went down.

She went up for a block attempt and came down holding her ankle and she was replaced by freshman Maggie Runge.

The Panthers fell in that set, 25-15.

The Panthers now turn their focus to the final two matches of the home stand that take place this upcoming weekend.

“This week at practice will give us a chance to improve in some areas of running the 5-1 and tweak some rotations,” Wolinski said.

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