Panther volleyball team returns to road

Maher Kawash, Volleyball Reporter

Junior middle hitter Allie Hueston kills the ball past two Eastern Kentucky opponents during the Panthers' 3-2 loss Oct. 14 in Lantz Arena.
Bryan Bund
Junior middle hitter Allie Hueston kills the ball past two Eastern Kentucky opponents during the Panthers’ 3-2 loss Oct. 14 in Lantz Arena.

The Eastern volleyball team is last in the Ohio Valley Conference standings heading into the weekend, but has an opportunity to turn that around.

The Panthers return to action Friday night with the first of two road conference matches this weekend.

Eastern faces a 5-3 Jacksonville State team to start things out then follows that with a match Saturday against 2-6 Tennessee Tech.

With the Panthers sitting at 1-7 in OVC play this season, these two upcoming matches provide a chance to make up some ground.

While Eastern has had its struggles, it is still just two games back of that coveted 8th spot in the standings that is needed to qualify for the postseason tournament.

With that being said, the Panthers have a tough task at hand with the Gamecocks Friday night.

Other than its five OVC wins, Jacksonville State comes into play tied for a conference-lead 17 wins overall on the season.

The Gamecocks have also found plenty of success on their home court, and have a 10-3 record there to show for it.

Allyson Zuhlke has been a large part of that success for Jacksonville State as she leads the way for the offense.

Zuhlke leads the Gamecocks with 325 kills this season as well as an average of 3.19 per-set.

On the other side of the ball, Mackenzie Rombach will try to limit the Panthers offensive attack.

Rombach leads Jacksonville State with a 135 blocks this season, and has a chance to continue that trend against Eastern.

Luckily for the Panthers, Saturday offers a slightly easier task.

Eastern will wrap up the weekend trip against the Golden Eagles who have faced similar struggles.

Other than just having two wins in conference play, Tennessee Tech is 6-15 overall on the season as well as just 2-2 at home.

Shealene Little produces the offense for the Golden Eagles, leading with 168 kills so far this season.

Kennedy Wade leads the team’s defense with a Golden Eagles-high 331 digs on the year.

The two teams were competitive against each other last season as the Panthers finished with a season split in two matches against Tennessee Tech.

This time around, Maria Brown will try to continue her success and lead Eastern to a win.

Brown set a new career-high for total kills in a match last weekend against Eastern Kentucky with 20.

She also picked up her sixth double-double of the season last weekend with an additional 15 digs.

The Panthers’ attack does not end there though, as six members are ranked in the top 10 in multiple OVC statistical categories.

Freshman Maggie Runge and junior Allie Hueston continue to provide a defensive attack.

Runge ranks second in the conference with a 1.27 blocks-per-set average, and Hueston adds to that in conference-only matches with an average of 1.37 per set.

Freshmen Lindsey Powers and Katie Sommer also continue to improve as the season goes along.

Powers posted a career-high 26 digs for the Panthers last weekend and ranks 9th in the OVC with 0.35 aces-per-set.

Sommer, on the other hand, has found success in her hitting percentages.

She hit above .400 in each match last weekend and ranks second in conference matches with a .353 hitting percentage against OVC opponents.

After the Panthers try and get back on track this weekend, they return home for a midweek match against Southern Illinois Edwardsville Wednesday night.

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