The Eastern volleyball team had an opportunity to make up some ground in the conference standings over the weekend, but was unable to take full advantage of that.
The Panthers returned to action with back-to-back road matches against Jacksonville State Friday followed by Tennessee Tech Saturday.
Tennessee Tech seemed like the easier opponent coming into the weekend with just two Ohio Valley Conference wins.
But ironically, it was the Golden Eagles who edged off the Panthers for a five-set loss Saturday.
What was thought to be the tougher match against Jacksonville State, Eastern rallied for a five-set win.
“Against JSU we did a good job of controlling the serve and pass and that allowed us to earn points,” Eastern coach Sam Wolinski said. “The girls were composed and we just played our style to win.”
The win against the Gamecocks highlighted the weekend for the Panthers, because of their ability to bounce back.
Eastern tipped off the match strongly with two quick wins in the opening two sets.
Jacksonville State rallied to tie the match after taking the next two sets.
That ability to bounce back was evident in the fifth and final set, as the Panthers were down early 5-1.
A 6-0 run from Eastern changed the momentum, and allowed the team to storm back and take a 7-5 lead.
The Panthers held on for the 15-11 set win as well as a 3-2 match victory.
The win was much needed for Eastern, and although the team is still in last, it inched closer to a possible tournament berth.
The Panthers could be tied for the coveted eighth spot in the conference standings if it were not for the loss to Tennessee Tech Saturday night.
Unlike the trend of runs that led to a win against the Gamecocks, Eastern was up and down in the loss to the Golden Eagles.
The two teams exchanged set wins throughout the match and it stayed that way until the fifth set.
After both teams were tied through four sets, the Panthers worked their way to a 15-14 lead in the final set.
Tennessee Tech was able to run away with four of the final five points to hand Eastern its 20th loss of the season, and eighth in the OVC.
“Tennessee Tech was a battle as well, and we just didn’t do enough to stay in our system on offense to go fast,” Wolinski said. “We did an amazing job coming back in set four to push it to five.”
With the 1-1 weekend in the books, Eastern still sits in last place but is just one game back of that eighth spot in the standings with just six games left on the season.
The win column was up and down for the Panthers, but there were still plenty of highs in other ways.
Along with the win, juniors Maria Brown and Josie Winner both finished that match with a double-double, freshman Lindsey Powers continued her freshman campaign with 16 digs against the Gamecocks.
And despite the loss, plenty of Panthers impressed against the Tigers.
Sophomore Taylor Smith and redshirt sophomore Gina Furlin joined Brown and Winner with double-doubles.
Winner set a career-high with 18 kills and 26 digs, and Brown added to her weekend stat line with 14 kills and 20 digs.
Eastern was pleased to have Smith return to the court as she had been sidelined with an ankle injury.
The sophomore returned to the court picking up right where she left off with another 22 assists and 13 digs in the loss.
“We need to get some rest and recovery after two tough matches and a long road trip,” Wolinski said.
The Panthers now turn their focus to a midweek matchup Wednesday against Southern Illinois Edwardsville.
“For SIUE we need to work on executing on a higher level in serve/receive and free balls to stay in system and go fast,” Wolinski said.
Eastern will try and avenge its loss to the Cougars earlier this season, and will also search for its first home win of the season.
After returning to Lantz, the Panthers hit the road for a match against Tennessee State Saturday.
Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]