Volleyball team prepares for midweek matchup


Bryan Bund

Sophomore Maggie Runge goes up for the kill in the Panthers’ 3-0 sweep over Alabama A&M. Eastern is on the road at Valparaiso Wednesday for a non-conference matchup.

Maher Kawash, Volleyball Reporter

The Eastern volleyball team is already turning heads this season with its improvements from a year ago, and now tries to continue that in a midweek affair.

The Panthers have started their season with only tournament games and now they take it to the road to face Valparaiso to push their record back to .500.

Eastern comes in at 4-5 after a particularly rough outing last weekend, finishing 1-3 in the EIU Panther Classic.

Valparaiso has had an identical start to its season as well though, as the Crusaders bring a 4-5 record of their own into the match.

For what it is worth, Eastern has the upper hand in the history of matches between these two teams as the Panthers have won 13 of 17 against Valparaiso.

It has been quite a while since the two have even met, with the last match coming as an Eastern victory in September of 1997.

The Crusaders bring some similar skill-sets to the match as well as they rely on Katherine Carlson for their offensive success.

Carlson leads the team with 86 kills and an average of 2.69 kills-per-set, but she is also versatile as she has a team high in digs with 206 this season.

Her digs-per-set average of 6.44 matches her teammate Sydney Bronner’s average, but Bronner brings a special presence with a team-high of 40 blocks this season.

Good news for the Panthers is they have plenty to counter that with, and Taylor Smith continues her second consecutive season of just dominating the NCAA in triple-doubles.

Smith picked up her NCAA leading third triple-double against Chicago State with 12 kills, 26 assists, 16 digs, and to top it off was just two blocks away from scoring a quadruple-double.

That goes along with the fact that she averaged nearly seven assists per set.

While Smith’s versatility continues to get it done, Maggie Runge continues to block the opponent every game.

Runge notched a season high 12 kills and showed her defensive presence with a season high of nine blocks against Chicago State.

Her presence on the block is a vital reason why the Panthers are top among the Ohio Valley Conference in blocks this season.

When it comes to preparing for these midweek matches, sophomore transfer Breanna Jager said it offers a different challenge.

“Our mindset is to just stay mentally tough, and a midweek game can be kind of tough because you’re coming straight from a class to the bus and right onto the court,” Jager said. “Obviously you have less time to dial into the game, but I think sticking to our game plan will be key.”

Getting focused for these midweek games may be a struggle for players but Jager said when the Panthers have high and consistent energy throughout the match then they always do better.

Jager and the Panthers will get their shot to follow through with that as first serve against the Crusaders is Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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