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Volleyball to play in four matches during Panther Invitational

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Volleyball to play in four matches during Panther Invitational

Eastern junior Lexi May (21) and senior Abby Knight (11) jump to block a shot from a Jacksonville State player during a Panthers win over Jacksonville State last season. The win was one of eight the Panthers had last season in the OVC.

Eastern junior Lexi May (21) and senior Abby Knight (11) jump to block a shot from a Jacksonville State player during a Panthers win over Jacksonville State last season. The win was one of eight the Panthers had last season in the OVC.

Eastern junior Lexi May (21) and senior Abby Knight (11) jump to block a shot from a Jacksonville State player during a Panthers win over Jacksonville State last season. The win was one of eight the Panthers had last season in the OVC.

Eastern junior Lexi May (21) and senior Abby Knight (11) jump to block a shot from a Jacksonville State player during a Panthers win over Jacksonville State last season. The win was one of eight the Panthers had last season in the OVC.

Tom O'Connor, Volleyball Reporter

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The Eastern volleyball season will commence this Saturday and Sunday at Lantz Arena, hosting St. Francis, Fresno State, Valparaiso and Iona, as part of the second annual Panther Invitational. 

Although Julie Allen expressed concerns regarding the stressors of starting a new season, her team’s physical health has not been, up to this point, a troubling matter, as all 17 Eastern players will be available to take the court this weekend.

“Probably it is a little rare, you always have something nagging or an issue,” Allen said. “We have a great athletic training staff and we have great players that identify problems early, so we solve them quickly.”

St. Francis, the first opponent lined up to play the Panthers on Friday, lost six of 10 tournament matches on the road in 2017, while posting fewer kills, assists and aces over a 37-game stretch, compared to Northeast conference opponents. 

Nonetheless, the Red Flash managed to accumulate the greatest share of digs–18 per set–among all other Northeast Conference teams. They also happened to rank 13th in the nation.

But the Red Flash lost libero Jenna Veres, the 2017 NEC defensive player of the year, upon graduation last spring. 

Eastern, by contrast, cemented the second highest blocks per game average, relative to OVC competition. 

Copying and pasting its defensive attributes from last season, Eastern combined for 12 blocks in its preseason match versus Southern Illinois-Carbondale, with senior Abby Knight contributing one-fourth of the Panthers’ grand total.

Taylor Smith, who has led the NCAA in triple doubles for the past two seasons, captured preseason All-OVC First Team honors, an award appointed by league coaches and sports information directors.

“We had a great scrimmage exhibition match against SIU-Carbondale,” Allen said. “That’s where I think our confidence level grew a lot. We got to see what we had been working on come to fruition and so we are now excited to see another one and grow our confidence even more.”

For the second Friday game, Eastern is slated to play Fresno State for the first time in program history, and, much like the Panthers, they were second in blocks for their respective conference.

The Panthers will then play Valparaiso for the penultimate game of the tournament on Saturday night, before playing Iona on Sunday. 

Eastern lost to Valparaiso, whose 2017 attack and dig averages outshined all other NCAA division teams, in four sets last September.

The Panthers finished with an average of 10.5 kills per set to the Crusaders 15.

 “My team, they know what we need to do to win, such as you want to have around 14 kills per set in order to solidify good standing,” Allen said. “Numbers don’t lie.”

Tom O’Connor can be reached at 

581-2812 or [email protected]

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Volleyball to play in four matches during Panther Invitational