Consistency key for volleyball team in 2018

Tom O'Connor, Volleyball Reporter

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Before taking on the head coaching position at Eastern last January, Julie Allen, a coach with over a decade experience, shepherded Wichita State to a 20-0 record against American Athletic Conference opponents last season. 

The year culminated with a second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, which endured until Wichita State lost to Missouri in the second round. 

Allen also played volleyball at the University of Portland as a setter. This epoch of four years would prove to be an indubitable asset in her new role. 

“Just being able to play and play in college at Division I, I understand what the student athletes are going through and the expectations,” Allen said. “So I am able to relate and listen to them, and try to make their path and their experience more enjoyable.”

Thus far, the season has turned out to be, well, quite enjoyable.

In a 3-0 exhibition win over Southern Illinois Carbondale on Saturday-defined by victories of 25-16, 25-17 and 25-20- the Eastern women’s volleyball team redoubled its defensive attack from 2017 into the 2018 season, managing a 0.61 attack percentage in the match.

The defensive fabric will consist of much the same design, since two of the top three blockers, senior Taylor Smith and junior Maggie Runge, have not gone anywhere.

Slated as the seventh seed in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, Eastern eliminated the number two seed, Southern Illinois Edwardsville, by holding the Cougars to a .136 attack rate, much like how the Panthers contained Southern Illinois Carbondale.

Success in round one of the 2017 OVC tournament ensured Eastern’s first semifinals appearance since 2014. 

Of the 18 players who represented the Eastern volleyball team last season, four, including Maria Brown and Allie Hueston, have since graduated.

In August of 2017, this roster remained completely intact from the previous year, as no players departed after the 2016 season winded down. 

Although the roster appears somewhat different, with freshmen Bailey Chandler, Hannah Sieg, Danielle Allen, Kylie Michael and Lynsey Steffen joining, the schedule is relatively comparable to that of the 2017 season.

The schedule, in terms of opponent difficulty, will become ever more trying as the Panthers delve farther into the campaign, never ceasing to threaten their post season prospects. Each month will pose greater demands than the one preceding it. 

“There’s a great schedule lined up, a lot of tough competition, a lot of tough teams ahead,” Allen said. “But it gives us a great opportunity to get better, learn from it and possibly steal some wins, as well as prepare us for the conference.”

A glance at opponent win percentages from the 2017 schedule reveals that the degree of complication for the Panthers may very well reach an apex in November, the month in which the OVC tournament begins.

Taking advantage of the competition at its inchoate form, the Eastern volleyball team, nearly one year ago, won two of three matches in the EIU Panther Invitational, edging both Memphis and Bradley 3-2. 

Eastern will play four teams in August that, on average, won at a 46 percent success rate in 2017, slightly less robust compared to the Panthers, who conquered half of their opponents.

Early season encounters with Saint Francis University, Fresno State, Valparaiso and Iona should be seen, collectively, as very winnable matches. 

The Panthers just need to execute.

Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]