First round rematch for Eastern volleyball on Wednesday


File Photo

Eastern redshirt-junior Gina Furlin hits a ball in a match last season at Lantz Arena. The Eastern volleyball team is 4-10 this season.

Tom O'Connor, Volleyball Reporter

Through three games, the results varied. The two teams, Eastern and Southern Illinois Edwardsville, were the only variables to remain consistent, as neither team could defeat the other in both the playoff and regular season contexts. 

Eastern will engage in a rematch of last season’s first round playoff game this Wednesday night, with the Panthers eyeing this Southern Illinois Edwardsville matchup at Lantz Arena, which will be the first conference affair of the season for both teams.

The Panthers tiptoed behind the Cougars all of last season, as they lost two regular season matches by scores of 3-1 and 3-0, searching for the opportune moment to catch the Cougars off guard.  But, then, hiding behind a seventh seed in the tournament, Eastern jumped out ahead and startled Southern Illinois Edwardsville, the second best team in the conference, 3-1 in the first round. 

Even for all their practice attempts last season, Anne Hughes, Laurel Bailey and company have not turned around to look back at their previous encounters with Southern Illinois Edwardsville. So the Panthers, at 4-10 overall, have made a conscious decision to remain in the present. 

“We really don’t talk about last year or the past because it’s a different team,” head coach Julie Allen said. “We run a whole different style. Just watching film though, I am excited about what their outside hitters do. I feel like we have a great game plan against them, so that will be fun to see that get implemented.”

In Eastern’s 3-0 win versus Omaha, sophomore Laurel Bailey and junior Maggie Runge remained at the forefront of a defense attack that, despite nine lead changes throughout the match, forced sophomore outside hitter Claire Leonard, one of the top offensive contributors for the Mavericks, into a string of blunders in set three.

Southern Illinois Edwardsville, a team that has won seven sets through 12 games, came up with its first victory on the year this past Saturday, a game in which the Cougars, who played Oral Roberts, won 3-2 with five players setting career marks.

As part of the preseason poll the Cougars had been predicted to finish third overall. 

Sophomore Rachel McDonald, whose 16 kills and 26 digs on Saturday landed her on the Cougar Classic All-Tournament team, has upgraded her play making since freshman year, when the outside hitter finished with a season best two kills.

Besides this performance from McDonald, a few of her teammates, junior Dylynn Otte, Hope Everett and freshman Ellen LeMasters, commanded 43 kills among the three of them.

The Cougars have, historically, been an obstruction to the Panthers, as the last such regular season win versus Southern Illinois Edwardsville occurred in November of 2015. 

 “Right now everyone is 0-0 in the conference and so we have been talking about that it’s a new ball game, new team across the board,” head coach Julie Allen said. “So, things in the past are in the past and we have got to focus on us and what we are going to stop them now.”

A potent serving game, according to Allen, will keep the Cougars contained in the corner, where the most fitting response for Southern Illinois Edwradsville would be to counter with a high ball, an approach her team has readily handled. Allen also said that the Cougars have a tendency to get buried in their rotations. 

“So we have really been talking about how we are going to influence the game as opposed to letting them do all of the talking,” Allen said.

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