The Eastern volleyball team has lost eight of its last 10 games, but is suffering from more than just its losses.
One of the Panthers best players and the Division I leader in triple-doubles, sophomore Taylor Smith left Friday’s matchup against Austin Peay with an ankle injury in the third set.
Smith was held out of the rest of the match as well as Saturday against Murray State.
Both games resulted in losses, but with the bad news also comes good opportunity.
As Smith nurses her ankle injury, it becomes a critical time for some younger Panthers to step up in her absence.
With no seniors to lead Eastern, the team will rely on its six newcomers to continue to emerge as the Panthers search for a turnaround.
Eastern is tied with three other teams for last place in the Ohio Valley Conference with its 1-5 record.
Non-OVC opponents have not been any easier, the Panthers have gone 4-17 overall on the season, but the team is earning plenty of experience along the way.
Eastern was projected to finish fourth in its conference this season, but has not been able to succeed with its youth to this point.
Smith provided versatility to the team, with her sidelined freshmen Lindsey Powers, Katie Sommer, and Maggie Runge will all earn more playing time in Smith’s absence.
Sommer and Powers have come on as of late with Powers filling in as Libero.
Improving each match, Sommer’s posted four blocks and four kills in her last match.
Runge has been one of the most impressive in the conference this season, and has been a dominant presence on the defensive side of the ball.
Runge ranks second in the OVC in blocks this season, and will need to continue that as Smith misses time.
Eastern coach Sam Wolinski said there is no update at this time regarding Smith’s injury, but if she is sidelined the team will also rely on other sophomores.
The Panthers have been led by redshirt junior Josie Winner and junior Allie Hueston who have both impressed this season.
Winner has posted eight or more kills against the team’s last five opponents, and Hueston has posted at least five blocks in her previous five matches.
Regardless of who steps up for Eastern, the team faces an important stretch of games coming up.
The Panthers begin that stretch this weekend with the final two matches of its home stand, and that will come against Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State.
Following the wrap up of home matches, Eastern hits the road for two more.
Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]