Panther volleyball readying for Bradley Braves tournament


File Photo

Junior middle hitter Maggie Runge tries to spike the ball as an Alabama A&M player tries to block it during the EIU Panther Classic in Lantz Arena in September 2017.

Tom O'Connor, Volleyball Reporter

Last September, redshirt junior libero Anne Hughes opened the month with a defensive player of the week award, breaking from all other Ohio Valley Conference foes. From there, Hughes and the Panthers ushered in two wins in three games, tying together 59 digs between the matches.

Hughes observed her one-year anniversary this week with another selection as defensive player of the week.

Eastern head coach Julie Allen has renewed hope that Hughes’ achievements a year ago were, for the sake of the team, a sneak preview for this weekend’s triple-feature of Bradley, Milwaukee and Omaha at the Bradley Braves tournament. 

“I would love to repeat that,” Allen said. “It was a great achievement for her. I was excited to celebrate that and I am excited to see that again then.”

Coincidentally, the conference awarded Hughes with this distinction last year which had been, in part, a tribute of recognition for her efforts at Bradley, where she assisted the Panthers in confining the Braves to a .189 attack percentage.

A one-game home stand is less than a week away, but, first, the Panthers will resume on a 10-game road trip. 

Five of the Panthers’ six away games this season have resulted in losses. 

“Strength of schedule plays a little bit of a proponent to it, as well as being new in learning my system,” said Allen.

At the CEFCU Invite in late August, Bradley came away with a first place finish, bettering its record to 5-1 on the season which, when compared with prior seasons, is tied for the best start in program history. 

With the second-highest digs per set average in the Missouri Valley Conference, Bradley senior Erica Haslag has averaged 3.65 digs per set, up from the 3.11 she enjoyed in her junior year.

“I think the keys to success is taking care of our side of the net, being sure we keep low errors and getting more kills as much as possible,” Allen said. “You know maybe an ace or a block. Getting more points on our side will definitely be the way we are able to take care of Bradley. They are a great, efficient team.”

The Braves enter the tournament with a 7-2 record.

Bradley has mastered, with few exceptions, its schedule thus far, very different from the Panthers’ second Friday opponent, Milwaukee.

Milwaukee, for all its struggles, has been buffeted by every single opponent through 10 games. 

Placing last at the Marriot Kalamazoo Conference tournament, Milwaukee, tied 13-13 in the fifth set of its match against Utah, could not uphold its defensive composure, a common mishap for them this year. 

The 3-2 defeat versus Utah was the third such loss this season and, moreover, these fifth set meltdowns have all ended with the Panthers down two.

Both Eastern and Omaha, the Panthers’ competition for Saturday, have endured lapses on the road, with the former at 0-3 and the latter at 0-2.

Although Omaha dropped four consecutive games to open the season, the Durango overwhelmed three opponents at their home event, behind the likes of freshman Sadie Limback, sophomore Isabella Sade and freshman Sydney Case, members of the all-tournament team.

If the Durango can muster three wins this weekend, their head coach, Rose Shires, will snatch her 500th career win.

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