Volleyball team working out kinks from preseason action

Adam Tumino, Volleyball Reporter

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File Photo | The Daily Eastern News
Setter Bailey Chandler serves the ball during Eastern’s 3-1 win against Iona College in August 2018 in Lantz Arena.

The Eastern volleyball team has less than two weeks until their regular season opener, and they are looking to bounce back after a 10-21 season in 2018, including a 5-11 conference record.

The Panthers are also coming off their lone exhibition of the preseason, which was played on Aug. 17 in Saint Louis.

The two teams agreed to play four sets, regardless of the score. And although the Panthers dropped all four sets, head coach Julie Allen was pleased with their performance.

“We saw a lot a great things out of it, things that we were practicing in the spring as well as things we’ve been working in the preseason,” Allen said. “Obviously there are some areas we need to improve on, which is why we do an exhibition game.”

In the time between the exhibition and the season opener, the Panthers are looking to shore up some weak points in practice.

“We’re still working on our first contact, that would be our serve receive pass and our serve,” Allen said.

She also said the team is working on serving aggressively while still managing to remain under control and avoiding errors.

As far as the roster goes, Eastern is returning many of their top contributors from last season.

Of the seven Panthers who played over 100 sets in 2018, five are back.

Those top contributors are seniors Maggie Runge and Katie Sommer, juniors Laurel Bailey and Madison Cunningham, and sophomore Bailey Chandler.

Bailey, Runge and Sommer were also the team’s leading scorers a season ago, in that order.

Runge thinks that having a strong group of returning players can be beneficial.

“We’ve put in a lot of hard work at practice and done a lot to try and move forward and teach our freshman,” she said.

Allen is also optimistic about the impact the returners can have on the team.

Speaking of the younger players, Eastern has six freshmen on the roster this season. Two of them played in the Saint Louis exhibition.

Sarah Paluch played two sets and registered a dig in the match.

Ireland Hieb played three sets, and even though six players played all four sets, she led the team with nine kills and 30 total attacks.

Last season’s team had five freshmen. Chandler led the freshmen in playing time with 107 sets in 2018 and redshirt freshman Kylie Michael played in 68.

The other three freshmen combined to play 70 sets.

Allen said she is unsure if this year’s freshmen will see more playing time than last year’s group.

“It’s such a great battle,” Allen said. “I’m excited to just let these two weeks play out, let everyone compete as hard as they can to earn that starting spot.”

Whichever starting lineup is decided upon will take the floor against South Dakota State in the EIU Panther Invitational Aug. 30 at 6 p.m.

The Panthers will be on the road one week later for the Central Michigan Chippewa Invitational.

Eastern struggled away from Lantz Arena last season, going 3-10 in road matches and 2-4 on neutral courts.

“Travel is a difficult thing for any team,” Allen said. “That should not be an excuse, it’s just a little bit more difficult for the athletes.”

Allen also mentioned that Eastern is at a slight geographic disadvantage when it comes to travel and have to take some long trips during the season.

“Ourselves and Jacksonville State are the outliers if you look at our conference,” she said. “I don’t worry about that. That’s just something we have to deal with and move on from.”

Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]