Eastern focused on winning for seniors in last games


Dillan Schorfheide

Carmen Tellez guards a Morehead State ball handler as Grace McRae sits in position to help during Eastern’s 67-57 loss in Lantz Arena Feb. 2.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

The Eastern women’s basketball team is still focused on winning. Despite being eliminated from playoff contention last weekend, the Panthers’ goal on Thursday against Jacksonville State (8-8) and Saturday against Tennessee Tech (11-5) is still to come away with wins in both games, just not for the normal reasons.

No, this weekend the Panthers will not be playing to get in the conference tournament, and they will also not be playing solely to play spoiler for two teams clawing up the standings in the conference; instead, the Panthers will be playing to win for the team’s four seniors: Grace Lennox, Carmen Tellez, Jalisha Smith and Halle Stull.

“Especially with having four seniors, our players are really together and close, and they want really badly to finish on a good note for the seniors,” head coach Matt Bollant said.

Plans are in place to send the seniors off this weekend, including giving a special ball to Grace Lennox commemorating 1000 career points and 500 assists (Lennox is at 495 currently).

But really what the Panthers feel the best way to send the seniors off right is getting two wins this weekend, and that will figure to be an easier said than done task.

Jacksonville State will give the Panthers a physical game where scoring will be hard to come by as the Gamecocks No. 1 ranked OVC defense and big forward Rayven Pearson look to make scoring and defending inside difficult for Eastern.

What will not help Eastern is the absence of freshman forward Abby Wahl, who will be out both games with a concussion. Wahl took over the starting role earlier this season from Jennifer Nehls who is out with a broken foot.

It will now be up to Smith and sophomore Grace McRae to hold down the post against Jacksonville State for Eastern.

“I think (Wahl) and Grace McRae together gave us two, even though they are young, two posts that are physical and can rebound and defend inside,” Bollant said. “Without (Wahl) it will be a little thin inside for sure.”

Smith has only started in three games this season but has played well of late. She scored 11 points and had five rebounds in the Panthers most recent game and score nine points with 11 rebounds in a start against Eastern Kentucky on Jan. 11.

Bollant hopes that Smith’s confidence stays high, and she continues to rebound and defend well against Jacksonville State.

Tennessee Tech offers a whole different challenge entirely. The Golden Eagles are an upstart team of sorts that surprised the whole league by upsetting Belmont (15-1) in the second conference game of the season. Since then the Golden Eagles have marched to an 11-5 OVC record, good for a three-way tie for 2nd in the conference, that includes a 99-88 win over Eastern on Jan. 12. Freshman Jordan Brock scored 33 points in that win for Tennessee Tech.

“(Jordan Brock) lit us up last time and she played just really well,” Bollant said. “We put up a lot of points but weren’t able to get stops, and so we have just been talking about how to get better defensively and how to slow them down because they put up 99 points against us last time.”

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]