Volleyball team fatigued in final home stint

Maher Kawash, Volleyball Reporter

Junior outside hitter Maria Brown kills the ball past a Southeast Missouri opponent during the Panthers’ 3-0 loss to the Redhawks Saturday in Lantz Arena.
Bryan Bund
Junior outside hitter Maria Brown kills the ball past a Southeast Missouri opponent during the Panthers’ 3-0 loss to the Redhawks Saturday in Lantz Arena.

There was an opportunity available for the Eastern volleyball team to move up in the conference standings, but the fatigue of a full season resulted in the end of any postseason hopes.

The Panthers hosted their final two home matches of the season over the weekend, and it was Tennessee-Martin and Southeast Missouri State who gave Eastern fits in its final home stint.

Eastern saw its best play come Friday night against Tennessee-Martin, but it was fatigue that plagued the night and weekend for the Panthers.

The fatigue and youth also sent Eastern into its first season in program history without a win at home.

The weekend losses dropped the Panthers to 0-11 in Lantz Arena this year as well as 5-24 overall.

“It took John Wooden 16 years to win his first championship at UCLA, so this is a process, and we knew that coming in,” coach Sam Wolinski said.

Despite the stress that comes with the long season, Eastern put up a five-set fight against the Skyhawks Friday night.

It was certainly a back-and-forth affair as both teams exchanged leads throughout each set and the match overall.

Each set saw each team score over 20 points while the match lead continued to change.

With both teams locked in heading to a fifth set, it was the Skyhawks who pushed out to an early 5-1 lead.

The Panthers fought back though and later tied the final set at 11, but after trading leads, Tennessee-Martin scored the final two points to win the match.

The intensity and effort put into a five-set match seemed to bite the Panthers on day two of the weekend.

Southeast Missouri came into the match Saturday with one more win in the Ohio Valley Conference than Eastern but also one less win overall this season.

That did not matter though as the Redhawks took advantage of the Panthers’ fatigue from the very first set and were able to run away with a three-set sweep.

“It’s not just about being the best team today, it’s about being the best team in the future and that’s what we’re going to continue to work on,” Wolinski said.

Sophomore Taylor Smith was one of the Panthers to find success on the weekend as she continued her triple-double dominance on the season.

Smith picked up her Division-I leading eighth triple-double Friday, and she followed up Saturday with 12 assists and 12 digs to earn a double-double.

Redshirt junior Josie Winner also led the way earning a double-double against Tennessee-Martin and followed with a team-high eight kills and 17 digs Saturday.

The conference struggles continue after this past weekend as the Panthers sit at the bottom of the OVC with a 2-12 record.

Eastern now turns its focus to its final two matches of the season, and both will come on the road against two of the top teams in conference.

Those matches come against first-place Murray State and Austin Peay, which is not far behind at third in the OVC.

Despite the outcome of those matches, Wolinski said she is confident in the direction of the program.

“As a volleyball team and program, we’ve gotten better this year,” Wolinski said. “We’re a better team than when we first started in August.”

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