Volleyball looks to Hughes for this weekend’s matches

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Volleyball looks to Hughes for this weekend’s matches

Eastern players Abby Knight (left) and Kylie Michael both attempt a block against Southern Illinois Edwardsville on Sept. 19, a 3-0 Eastern win.

Eastern players Abby Knight (left) and Kylie Michael both attempt a block against Southern Illinois Edwardsville on Sept. 19, a 3-0 Eastern win.

Bryan Bund

Eastern players Abby Knight (left) and Kylie Michael both attempt a block against Southern Illinois Edwardsville on Sept. 19, a 3-0 Eastern win.

Bryan Bund

Bryan Bund

Eastern players Abby Knight (left) and Kylie Michael both attempt a block against Southern Illinois Edwardsville on Sept. 19, a 3-0 Eastern win.

Tom O'Connor, Volleyball Reporter

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Homesickness in college volleyball, or any sport for that matter, is a formidable challenge, occurring when teams experience separation anxiety from their fan base. There are some places, though, that teams find all the more stressful.

Lantz Arena can be a rather daunting venue to play at, that is, if the teams happen to be Southeast Missouri or Tennessee-Martin, which have not won at Eastern since the 2016 season.

As such, the two schools will travel to Eastern this weekend for the first time in the 2018 calendar year.

Eastern trounced the Redhawks and Skyhawks last season, as the Panthers, who won both home matches, came out 3-1 over them. 

If the Panthers take both matches, they will, by the end of the weekend, bulldoze both teams in the standings.

 Three teams, Tennessee-Martin and Southeast Missouri included, are tied with Eastern for the fourth place slot in the standings (1-1 conference records). These home conference matches point to a shift in the schedule from here on. 

After defeating Chicago State on Tuesday, the Panthers officially returned from their non-conference tour, claiming four wins and 11 losses, which, to Eastern’s benefit, do not factor into the standings. 

Only the results from conference matchups, such as this weekend’s lineup, will be germane to Eastern’s postseason odds.

“Truly, I am going to always be happy if we keep learning from it,” head coach Julie Allen said.  “This conference is great, they are very competitive, they are athletic. I am hoping we can be more aggressive and then maintain our defense with Anne (Hughes) back there.”

Speaking of Hughes, Allen has characterized the redshirt junior as a voracious defender and a mainstay on the Eastern roster. 

The Redhawks, a team with a 9-6 record overall, are one of the most prolific offenses in the conference, ravaging teams with what is the third highest hitting percentage and second finest kills per set average. 

Allen stressed the impact of Hughes who, as a defensive specialist, has been a frontrunner in the conference with regards to digs per set (5.47), which is 13th best in Division I. 

Two of her assets as a volleyball player, from Allen’s perspective, exceed them all. 

“Anne’s calm demeanor on the court, as well as her leadership skills,” Allen said. “She commands a lot of effort and respect and determination to get that ball up for her teammates. So she does it first by example and then communicating and getting it to her teammates.”

Her presence, Allen said, has become ingrained into every fiber of the Eastern volleyball team’s existence, as the freshman and sophomore players have received a vast inheritance from Hughes.

Hughes’ knack for flagging down loose balls, all while remaining unruffled under pressure, has been passed along, almost as an obligation. 

 “She is doing a great job mentoring our younger players in how to remain calm and yet still be a little aggressive out there on the court when it needs to be,” Allen said.  “Every time she gets that opportunity to talk to them, they respond quite well. I look to give her some more information and she takes it and talks to her teammates how she wants, but she delivers a great message and they follow.”

Composure, so to speak, should be pertinent to the Tennessee-Martin match. Close to half of Tennessee-Martin’s matches have stretched to five games, with four of the games resulting in victories for the Skyhawks.

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