Volleyball team to open season Friday

Eastern+libero+Christina+Martinez+Munoz+lunges+to+her+left+to+return+a+serve+in+a+match+against+Feb.+7+against+Morehead+State+in+Lantz+Arena.+Martinez+Mundo+recorded+10+digs+in+the+match%2C+which+Eastern+lost+3-1.+

File Photo | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern libero Christina Martinez Munoz lunges to her left to return a serve in a match against Feb. 7 against Morehead State in Lantz Arena. Martinez Mundo recorded 10 digs in the match, which Eastern lost 3-1.

Adam Tumino, Sports Editor

After being canceled last season, the EIU Panther Invitational will begin Friday as the Eastern volleyball team opens the 2021 season. 

The Panthers will play IUPUI Friday afternoon and then face Bellarmine and Chicago State Saturday. 

Eastern head coach Sara Thomas is now in her second season, and is thus having her first experience hosting the invitational. She said that being able to open the season by hosting an event like this is a good opportunity. 

“I love that we’re home,” she said. “I think it’s a little bit of a confidence boost for our team, and then a good opportunity to host the other teams and show them what we have going on here at Eastern, and hopefully be able to give them a good experience as well. And then it just starts us off, right from the beginning, setting the tone at home for how we want our season to go.”

Eastern’s first opponent, IUPUI, is coming off an 0-12 spring season. Bellarmine went 4-13 and Chicago State was 1-9. 

Back in 2019, the Panthers played Chicago State and beat the Cougars 3-2, one of just three wins for the Panthers that season. 

The Panthers are coming off a 2-14 season. A majority of the roster consists of returning players, but four freshmen and three community college transfers have been added. 

Thomas said that adding that many players certainly has its benefits, and their integration into the program has been smooth. 

“Adding that many players gives us depth,” she said. “Our returners and our new players have really gelled really well and they have established this really great chemistry. Our returners were able to help build a great foundation of our culture, and they have embraced our new players.”

Thomas also said that the addition of new players can has increased healthy competition within the team.

Senior outside hitter Danielle Allen and redshirt-senior Kylie Michael are the top returning scorers for the Eastern. The averaged 2.29 kills per set and 2.28 kills per set respectively. 

Senior setter Bailey Chandler averaged 9.29 assists per set last season and sophomore libero Christina Martinez Mundo averaged 3.96 digs per set as a freshman last season. 

She was named OVC Defensive Player of the week after a pair of matches against Tennessee State, recording a season-high 27 digs in both matches. 

By the time Eastern wraps up play this weekend, Thomas said there were several goals in mind she hopes to see from the team. 

“Growth. Continuing to become tighter-knit as a team,” she said. “One of our goals is to be able to out-team the other team, and to just continue to prepare for conference in four weeks.”

Conference play begins Sept. 24 and 25 for the Panthers when they play a pair of matches on the road against Murray State. 

 

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