Panthers playing well in Bollant’s 3rd season


Adam Tumino

Forward Abby Wahl battles for possession against two Southeast Missouri defenders in Eastern’s 77-65 loss against Southeast Missouri on Jan. 25 at Lantz Arena.

JJ Bullock, Editor-in-Chief

It is said in basketball, and in college sports in general, when a coach takes over a program it takes about three years before you can fairly judge where the coach is leading the program. Is it headed in the right direction or is it going the wrong way? 

Eastern’s women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant is now in his third season as the helm of the program and when making an assessment of where the program is at, it is probably safe to say it is in the right place.  

Eastern is having its best season in a long time in Bollant’s third season, sitting at 6-4 in OVC play while on track to make its first conference tournament since the 2014-2015 season.  

There is still a lot of season left to play, but thus far, it is looking like when it comes to assessing Bollant in his pivotal third season as head coach, the assessment will come out as a positive one.  

Bollant took over the program in 2017 after the Panthers had a 9-19 season under former head coach Debbie Black, and when Bollant took charge, the program was pretty thin on talent. Holdovers like Grace Lennox, Jennifer Nehls and Carmen Tellez were on the roster, but other than them the roster was filled with young, unproven players.  

But now, Bollant’s original recruiting class which included Karle Pace, Taylor Steele and Grace McRae is leading the team, and other Bollant recruits like Abby Wahl and Lariah Washington are shaping up to be some of the more talented players in the OVC. 

Pace is seventh in the conference in scoring averaging 14.3 points per game, Wahl is 11th, averaging 12.4 ppg and Washington is 17th, averaging 11.2 ppg.  

Add players like sophomore guards Kira Arthofer and Jordyn Hughes to the mix along with freshman like Morgan Litwiller, you could make the case that this is the most talented Panthers’ roster since the team went 12-4 in 2012-2013. 

The six conference wins Eastern has this season is already more it had last year (five) and four more than it had in Bollant’s first season with Eastern. 

Simply put, the Panthers have gotten better every year under Bollant and in his ever important third season, the Panthers are thriving. 

In Bollant’s first season Pace, Steele and McRae were freshman players, who played like freshman at times and at other times played like they would one day run the conference. 

Now as juniors that group of players has developed into a group that has shown they can compete with anyone in the OVC. 

The recruiting classes after them have developed well too and it looks like Bollant is setting Eastern up to be one of the better OVC teams in the very near future. 

A lot can happen between now and the conference tournament but early indications show that Bollant’s third season will be evaluated as a good one and has to be so far exactly what the Eastern athletic department could hope it would be.  

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