Eastern tops Gamecocks, falls to Tennessee Tech


Bryan Bund

Eastern junior Lexi May hits a ball over the net in Eastern’s 3-0 sweep of Southern Illinois Edwardsville at Lantz Arena on Sept. 21. Eastern beat Jacksonville State, but fell to Tennessee Tech, both on the road this weekend.

Tom O'Connor, Volleyball Reporter

The volleyball team’s offense had enough fuel to make it all the way to central Alabama in a 3-0 victory to stifle Jacksonville State Friday (25-13, 22-25, 25-22, 20-25, 15-4), but broke down on the return trip, falling 3-2 (25-17, 25-18, 25-17) to Tennessee Tech Saturday.

In the deciding play of Friday’s steamroll of Jacksonville State, redshirt freshman Kylie Michael enriched Eastern with a service ace, as the Panthers muscled past the Gamecocks in their first road win over an Ohio Valley Conference adversary this season. 

It provided Eastern the means to throttle a top-five conference team after four consecutive losses in the past two weeks. 

The Kylie Michael serve spoiled Jacksonville State’s come-from-behind effort which, just minutes earlier, had them up 23-20. 

Michael, intent on exerting her presence both offensively and defensively, compiled four blocks, two aces and six kills in the match.

“She did a great job demonstrating focus coming out of a time out and making big plays,” said head coach Julie Allen. “Kylie and her teammates did a good job making plays and string points together.” 

A Michael-Maggie Runge combination to open the third set caged the Jacksonville State offense, with the two of them coming together for the block assist on sophomore Kaylie Milton.

“Again, Friday night the team did a great job focusing on the game plan throughout the match,” Allen said. “Michael and Runge did a good job keying in our opponents, go to hitters and shutting them down.”

From there, Jacksonville State cornered Eastern when sophomore Lexie Libb’s kill deepened the Panthers deficit to three, 23-20. 

Recovering from seven straight Jacksonville State points, junior Katie Sommer dusted off the Eastern offense, as her kill late in set three would set up a 4-0 run, an outburst the Gamecocks could not answer back from. 

After a five-point loss in set one, a nine kill, one block showing from senior Mackenzie Rombach and junior Kaylee Frear pulled them to as close as three by the end of the second.

The Gamecocks went into the match ranked second in the OVC in kills, but their 35 kills on Friday was, to be exact, 4.3 less than what they typically collect.

But the Panthers’ edge, specifically on offense, could not sustain itself a day later in Tennessee.

Freshman Bailey Chandler’s 20 assists, senior Abby Knight’s five blocks and Laurel Bailey’s 12 kills were not conducive to taking a win at Tennessee Tech, with the Golden Eagles rounding it out on runs of 8-0 and 3-0. 

The Golden Eagles groomed a 100 percent hitting percentage in the fifth set, which was the most efficient rate of the entire match. 

Allen credited Tennessee Tech’s aggressive serves for the stress they placed on the Eastern defense, suggesting that this onslaught patched up other elements to the Golden Eagles game. 

 “That put us on our heels a bit and helped their blocking game,” Allen said. “We will need to take that example and use it this week.”

 Bailey peeled back the Golden Eagles 11-9 lead in the fourth set by setting off four kills to award Eastern with the win.

Down 2-1, Eastern stretched out the match with contributions from the likes of Bailey and Runge who, to finish out that set, blocked freshman Taylor Dorsey’s attack at the net, sending it into the fifth.

Midway through set five, Tennessee Tech junior Rachel Thomas served a helping of three kills, dishing out two of them as part of an 8-0 run which, by the end of it, ushered in a 10-3 advantage for the Golden Eagles.

“Tech did a great job coming into the match hyped up and caught us off guard,” Allen said. “We definitely started off slow which put us in a bit of a rut. I look forward to practice this week as we work on coming out strong.”

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