Panthers win 2 at EIU Invitational


Sean Hastings

Freshman Laurel Bailey(15), junior Taylor Smith(7), redshirt sophomores Anne Hughes(12) and Gina Furlin(14), and senior Maria Brown(13) celebrate a point in their match against Green Bay Friday in Lantz Arena. The Panthers lost the match, but won both matches on Saturday against Memphis and Bradley.

Maher Kawash and Kaitlin Cordes, Volleyball Reporters

The Eastern volleyball team is finding some quick momentum after finishing the first weekend of action with two wins at the EIU Panther Invitational.

The Panthers struggled a year ago in finding that complete game as an early slow start or a faltered late lead continuously made the difference.

But this early sign is a positive one for a team that offers up so much potential because of its good mix of youth and returning veteran leadership.

The match on Saturday evening against Bradley was a fine example of this as it was an early strong start that earned them the victory.

After Eastern handled the first two sets behind newcomer Laurel Bailey’s five kills and sophomore Maggie Runge’s three blocks, Bradley lingered around by taking back the next two sets.

The difference in those two set losses for Eastern was kind of out of their hands as Bradley just hit for a match-high average of .308.

Eastern finished Bradley off with a 15-10 fifth set victory.

“The depth we have and the confidence we have from playing together makes the difference,” senior Maria Brown said.

That effort to battle back is something that will stretch the Panthers into a successful season.

These two home wins for Eastern also set a special mark as the team ended its home losing streak after finishing 0-12 at Lantz Arena a year ago.

It is a mark the Panthers seem encouraged to leave in the past as a 2-1 record to start is plenty to build off of heading into the rest of the season.

The wins came after a loss to Green Bay Friday night. Eastern dropped a three-set match to the Phoenix, 22-25, 18-25, 22-25.

Eastern came into the third set on fire with a five-point run to counteract a kill by Green Bay’s Lydia Wolf. The Panthers held the lead throughout the match until Green Bay took advantage of a Panther error to put the Phoenix up 20-19.

Coach Sam Wolinski said her game plan for the third set was to switch up her team’s offense and pelt Green Bay with some unexpected attacks.

“We’re a good, aggressive serving team,” Wolinski said. “I wanted to get a couple of our other people in there who I thought could give us that lift and also give us a couple different looks offensively. So, I thought Morgan (Matusik) came in and did a good job of hitting. She’s done a good job of hitting off of high hands”

Matusik registered two kills, each resulting in a point for the Panthers.

Eastern’s blocking was strong throughout the entire match as the team managed 11 blocks to Green Bay’s five team blocks. Wolinski said blocks were a point of emphasis for her team in order to take on Green Bay’s middle hitter Lydia DeWeese.

DeWeese slammed 18 kills over the three sets and scored 19 points overall, the most kills and points by a single player for Green Bay.

“Lydia is just a really good player, and she makes their team click. We talked to our outsides about helping out with that block, and you’re trying to, with your serve, negate her from getting the ball whenever possible,” Wolinski said. “When they were trying to set outsides, you kind of wanted that ball to go more to their outsides or their right sides than her.”

After finishing in second place at the invitational, the Panthers are set to play at the Denver tournament.

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