Volleyball begins season 2-1

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

Even though the Eastern volleyball team lost 3-0 to open its weekend tournament, each set was close. Then, they flipped the switch Saturday and picked up a pair of wins.

The wins, however, did not come easy. Also, playing in 10 close sets, the Panthers pulled away from Memphis and then Bradley.

The Panthers did not have a blistering offense in the wins, but executing blocks were key, as Eastern and its two opponents were neck-and-neck in kills. Bradley even out-killed the Panthers 68-61.

The difference? Eastern’s defense limiting Bradley to a .189 kill percentage. The Braves attempted 190 kills, connecting on 68, while Eastern was much more efficient landing .239 percent of its kills.

“I believe that we were able to have a higher hitting percentage because we were all taking smart swings and keeping the defense guessing,” Eastern junior Taylor Smith said. “A big part of this success goes to our defense.”

Smith said they had great passes both in serve receive and off attacks.

The Panthers had 14 less attempts than the Braves at 176.

In the match against the Braves, Eastern got its usual leadership from veteran players like Taylor Smith and senior Maria Brown, but freshman Laurel Bailey is the one who led the Panthers in kills in the match with 14.

Smith hit over 50 percent in the match.

That veteran leadership was also present in the Memphis win with Smith and Brown putting down 11 kills and senior Allie Hueston and sophomore Maggie Runge both killing 12.

The Panthers also utilized having two strong setters up front in Smith and redshirt sophomore Gina Furlin.

And with the three teams that was another huge difference. While Eastern uses two setters, Green Bay, Bradley, and Memphis went to one setter.

Green Bay’s Maddie Yoss had 46 of the team’s 51 kills. Memphis’ Faith Myers had 34 out of 58 assists. And Hannah Angeli had 51 out of 63 assists for Bradley.

Smith and Furlin had 17 and 16 assists against Green Bay, 33 and 20 against Memphis, and 25 and 21 against Bradley.

Last season it took Eastern until its seventh match of the season to pick up its first of five wins. This year, it started 2-1 and seems to be headed in the right direction.

Smith said picking up the wins was a huge relief to finally win at home.

“From the first win, I feel like when we got to the Bradley game, we came out with a sense of confidence and urgency that no one was going to beat us on our home court. Hopefully we can carry this confidence into OVC play.”

Last year the team was still young and now it is filled with veterans. The Panthers have a strong senior class led by Brown and Smith has been on the rise since her freshman year where she performed as one of the top players in the Ohio Valley Conference.

And the younger players from last year are stepping up this year after having one year under their belt. They also have redshirt sophomore Anne Hughes back at the libero position.

Smith said picking up early wins was crucial and they got back to having fun on the court playing with a lot of confidence.

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]