Though the Eastern volleyball team fell short of expectations a season ago, plenty has come of it.
After winning just five games last year, the Panthers now return for a fresh campaign with some fresh faces.
The fresh faces come in a group of five freshman and two transfers and at the perfect time, as Eastern still holds a solid number of veterans.
Of the freshmen, outside hitter Kylie Michael has been one to already receive some attention, as she broke records in high school and is also the daughter of Eastern athletic director Tom Michael.
Laurel Bailey is another 6’0 freshman who comes in to help the team as an outside hitter after recording 451 kills her senior year.
Madison Kassaros is another freshman but does not come in with the same size as Bailey and Michael as she is just 5’5.
Her height does little to stop her from being a defensive specialist though, as she averaged nearly six digs per match as a senior, while also being a two-sport athlete, as she hit the softball field.
Caroline Kirchmer and Madison Cunningham will provide the same role in their first campaign and that sets the Panthers up well considering returners such as Lindsey Powers and Anne Hughes being there to serve as mentors.
Taylor Smith served as one of the best outside hitters/servers across the Ohio Valley Conference last season, and will now share her expertise with incoming transfer setter Breanna Jager.
With all being said, that group of freshmen has a special skillset that Eastern may have had a year ago but now has more of.
There is no saying what the rest of the competition may factor in, but it is clear the Panthers brought in some fresh talent to improve on a rebuild.
Maggie Runge has a chance to be a big factor in that rebuild as she was a force for Eastern last season as a middle hitter.
Runge finished second overall in the OVC last year in blocks per set average with a rate of 1.17, and she earned five or more blocks in 11 different games.
Maria Brown is that locker room presence that every team needs as she comes in for her senior season after starting all 31 matches last year and finishing with a team-high 273 kills.
Josie Winner is not far behind as she notched 241 kills last season, and comes into her final season trying to improve upon her 2.06 kills per set average.
The veterans and freshman will all get a shot to build together as regular season play opens Friday at home against Green Bay in the EIU Panther Invitational.
Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]