Column: Volleyball players improving despite tough season

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Column: Volleyball players improving despite tough season

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News
Laurel Bailey rises up to swat down a spike to the opponents’ court. Eastern lost 3-0 to Austin Peay Sept. 28 in Lantz Arena.

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News Laurel Bailey rises up to swat down a spike to the opponents’ court. Eastern lost 3-0 to Austin Peay Sept. 28 in Lantz Arena.

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News Laurel Bailey rises up to swat down a spike to the opponents’ court. Eastern lost 3-0 to Austin Peay Sept. 28 in Lantz Arena.

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News Laurel Bailey rises up to swat down a spike to the opponents’ court. Eastern lost 3-0 to Austin Peay Sept. 28 in Lantz Arena.

Adam Tumino, Volleyball Reporter

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It has been a difficult season for the Eastern volleyball team, at least in the win column.

A 1-15 start overall and an 0-4 record in conference play have the Panthers in last place in the OVC so far.

Despite the record, several Eastern players have improved their numbers since last season. Some of these improvements have come as players receive increased playing time. Other players who improved have been mainstays in the Panther lineup for several years.

With the lack of wins to this point in the season, the growth and development of these players becomes even more magnified.

The two Eastern seniors who have played the most, Katie Sommer and Maggie Runge, are both having career years.

Sommer has improved her kills per set average to 2.23, an increase of 0.31 kills per set over last season.

This number is so, despite Sommer’s relative struggles in the Panthers’ last five matches, in which she is averaging 2.08 kills per set.

Runge is having her best offensive season, raising her points per set and kills per set averages by nearly half a point and kill each. She is averaging a career-high 2.66 points per set and 2.15 kills per set.

Runge’s blocking numbers have fallen off from last season, when her 1.03 blocks per set ranked second in the OVC.

She is second on the team this season, but her average is now .803 blocks per set.

However, the team has increased its blocks per set from 1.95 a year ago to 1.98 this season, taking some of the pressure off Runge.

She also posted, so far, a career-high hitting percentage of .308, which is the fourth best in the OVC. Runge has played in all 61 sets this season.

Perhaps more importantly than these seniors’ improvements are the improvements of players who will return to Eastern after this season.

Junior Madison Cunningham seems to be embracing her full-time role as the team’s libero. Cunningham nearly doubled her digs per set average from last season, going from 2.20 to 4.33, which ranks sixth in the OVC.

She also played all 61 sets and was named the OVC Defensive Player of the Week Sept. 23, following the Panthers’ last weekend of non-conference play in the Youngstown State Red and White Invitational.

Another Eastern player who has appeared in every set is sophomore setter Bailey Chandler. She is responsible for 84.6 percent of Eastern’s assists this season. She led the team last season in assists but was only responsible for 48.7 percent of the total assists.

Chandler increased her assists per set average from 5.52 to 8.30, which is the sixth-best average in the conference.

Joining Chandler, a fellow sophomore, is a player who seems to be taking advantage of more playing time this season: Hannah Sieg.

Sieg already played 25 more sets than she did in her freshman season. Her kills per set have increased from .364 as a freshman to .830 this season, and her points per set have increased from .803 to 1.31.

Sieg’s biggest jump has come in blocks per set. She leads the team in total blocks with 51 and blocks per set with .879, with the latter falling just outside of the top 10 in the conference.

The continued development of freshmen Ireland Hieb and Sarah Paluch has also been a major factor for the Panthers this season.

Hieb is third on the team with 124 kills and leads the Panthers with 2.48 kills per set. Paluch is fifth on the team in digs per set, averaging 1.73.

Although the wins may not be piling up for Eastern there are plenty of things to look forward to, both for the remainder of this season and going forward.

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