Column: Breaking down the Panthers’ 1st win of season

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Column: Breaking down the Panthers’ 1st win of season

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News
Maggie Runge swings her arm forward to spike a ball to the opponents’ court. Eastern lost 3-2 against Evansville in the Evansville Dunn Hospitality Tournament Sept. 14.

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News Maggie Runge swings her arm forward to spike a ball to the opponents’ court. Eastern lost 3-2 against Evansville in the Evansville Dunn Hospitality Tournament Sept. 14.

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News Maggie Runge swings her arm forward to spike a ball to the opponents’ court. Eastern lost 3-2 against Evansville in the Evansville Dunn Hospitality Tournament Sept. 14.

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News Maggie Runge swings her arm forward to spike a ball to the opponents’ court. Eastern lost 3-2 against Evansville in the Evansville Dunn Hospitality Tournament Sept. 14.

Adam Tumino, Volleyball Reporter

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After losing the first two matches of the Youngstown State Red and White Invitational this weekend, the Eastern volleyball team was in danger of suffering its fourth consecutive winless weekend to begin the season.

In their first match of the invitational Friday morning, the Panthers won consecutive sets for the first time this season to go up 2-0 against Central Michigan. But the Chippewas won the next three sets to send the Panthers to 0-10.

This was the second-straight loss for Panthers after they were in good position to win. On Sept. 14, they lost to Evansville despite being up 14-10 in the fifth set, needing just one more point to win.

Friday evening brought Eastern another loss, this time against host Youngstown State.

Back on the court Saturday morning were the Panthers, and they did not want to take the nearly 500-mile trip back to Charleston at 0-12.

They beat Robert Morris 3-2, picking up their first win of the season in their last non-conference match.

Eastern dropped the first set 25-16 to the Colonials, being outkilled 13-7. But the Panthers reversed this trend in set two, winning 25-22 and outkilling Robert Morris 12-9.

In the third set, however, the Panthers allowed Robert Morris to go on several extended runs, including two 5-0 runs, and lost the set 25-11.

But Eastern came out swinging in the fourth set, registering 16 kills, just one shy of its season-high 17 from the first set against Central Michigan Friday.    

The fourth set was a back-and-forth affair and the Panthers found themselves on the brink of losing, trailing 24-22.

But Robert Morris could not put the match away.

An attack error made it 24-23. Eastern’s Madison Cunningham delivered a service ace to tie the set before another Colonial error gave Eastern a 25-24 lead.

The set was tied at both 25 and 26 points, but back-to-back Panther kills by Laurel Bailey and Maggie Runge ended the dramatic set, tying the match at two sets apiece.

Eastern kept up the momentum in the fifth set, jumping ahead to a 9-2 lead. Robert Morris continued to creep closer throughout the set, and after falling behind 14-9, cut the Panther lead to just a single point.

But they would get no closer, as a kill courtesy of Kylie Michael gave the Panthers the set and the match. It was Michael’s eighth kill of the match, a season high for her.

Bailey led the team with 19.5 points, her season high, with a hitting percentage of .286. She added 16 digs as well.

Runge’s 13 points were good for second on the team.

Eastern libero Madison Cunningham continued to play well, recording 26 digs in the match. Bailey Chandler had 45 assists as well.

Although the win does not count in the standings for Eastern, it likely feels a whole lot better heading into OVC play without an empty win column.

The win assured that the Panthers were not the only winless team in the conference.

They are also one of seven OVC teams to finish off non-conference play with a victory, a feat that Eastern’s first two conference opponents, Murray State and Austin Peay, were not able to accomplish.

The Panthers will try to keep their momentum going as they return home to play Murray State Sept. 27 and Austin Peay  Sept. 28, taking the court at Lantz Arena for the first time since the EIU Panther Invitational Aug. 30 and 31.

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