Volleyball picks up first OVC win

Adam Tumino, Volleyball Reporter

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The Eastern volleyball team entered play this past weekend on a six-match losing streak to begin conference play, but moved up a spot in the OVC standings after splitting a pair of matches at home.

The Panthers won their first conference match Oct. 18 against Tennessee Tech, snapping not only the losing streak, but a streak of 18 consecutive sets lost to OVC opponents.

The first set was Eastern’s longest of the season, ending 39-37 in favor of the Panthers. Long sets like this can be stressful, said Eastern senior Maggie Runge.

“I don’t want to know the score, I just want to play,” Runge said. “There is a point that when it keeps going back-and-forth that you’re like, ‘Damn, this is a first set?’ It’s really fun, though. It’s really nerve-racking but those nerves kind of get you going and get you excited for the rest of the game.”

The match went to a fifth set, and nearly two and a half hours after the match began, the Panthers celebrated their first home victory since Oct. 20, 2018.

“It feels so good,” Eastern redshirt sophomore Kylie Michael said. “Being out there, and just hugging and embracing each other is so much fun, especially with our team working so hard throughout the entire season. We’ve had bumps on the road, but getting the first conference win, in five especially, is so great.”

Michael had two career-highs with 13 kills and 18 points in the match. Runge led the team with a career-high 17 kills, including seven in the fifth set alone. The entire Tennessee Tech team had eight kills in the set.

“If I felt like the ball was there, I felt like the set was there, I was going to put it away,” Runge said. “If I didn’t feel like it was somewhere where I could just smash it, I was going to go up and throw it somewhere they weren’t.”

Runge credited work in practice and a solid performance from setter Bailey Chandler for the high number of kills. Chandler had 52 assists in the match, her highest total this season.

The Panthers had a quick turnaround following the win, playing Jacksonville State Oct. 19 at 2 p.m.

Eastern lost the match in straight sets. The Gamecocks improved their conference record to 6-2 with the victory and remain in a four-way tie atop the OVC standings.

Despite the loss, the Panthers moved out of last place in the standings and are now percentage points ahead of Belmont.

Eastern head coach Julie Allen said she hopes the team can use the loss as well as the win to move forward for the remainder of the season.

“I hope that the (win) fires us up and shows them that every match is possible,” Allen said.

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