Panthers beat NIU, improve to 4-0

The+Eastern+volleyball+team+celebrates+a+service+ace+from+junior+setter+Summer+Smith+%288%29+in+the+Panthers+3-1+win+over+Northern+Illinois+Thursday+in+Lantz+Arena.+Smith+has+2+aces+and+season+high+30+assists+in+the+match.+

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News

The Eastern volleyball team celebrates a service ace from junior setter Summer Smith (8) in the Panthers’ 3-1 win over Northern Illinois Thursday in Lantz Arena. Smith has 2 aces and season high 30 assists in the match.

Adam Tumino, Sports Editor

It was Sept. 6, 1985. 

Ronald Reagan was president. The number one movie in America was “Back to the Future.”

It was also the last time the Eastern volleyball team started the season 4-0. 

Before Thursday, that is. 

The Panthers beat Northern Illinois 3-1 in Lantz Arena, continuing their unbeaten start to the season after going 3-0 in the EIU Panther Invitational last weekend. 

Head coach Sara Thomas said that the team making sure to savor their hot start to the season. 

 “We never ever take it for granted,” she said. “I keep stressing that we’re 18 strong, and it takes the whole team to pull off this. That was one of the reasons we wanted to have so much depth, so we can have fresh legs, fresh arms, fresh eyes out on that floor at all times.” 

The depth of the Eastern roster showed in the box score Thursday, as seven players had 4 or more kills in the match. Thomas was also able to sub in multiple players throughout the match without it affecting the production on the court.

“It may be more freeing to (the players), that they can just get out there and play and they know that their teammates have their backs in needed,” Thomas said. 

Senior outside hitter Danielle Allen once again led the team in kills with 15. She has reached double-digit kills in each match this season. 

Freshman outside hitter TaKenya Stafford and sophomore middle blocker Emily Wilcox recorded 8 kills apiece.

Junior setter Summer Smith set a new season high with 30 assists and sophomore libero Christina Martinez Mundo added a game-high 26 digs.

The Huskies were led by junior outside hitter Kaitlyn Bell with 9 kills and senior middle blocker Angie Gromos with 8 kills. 

As a team, Eastern recorded 52 kills to Northern’s 42 and outhit the Huskies .170 to .148. The Panthers doubled up their opponents in aces 8-4 and recorded 63 digs to Northern’s 55. 

The match also broke a 9-match winning streak for Northern against Eastern, although the teams had not played each other since 2000.

They will not have to wait 21 years for their next matchup, however, as Eastern and Northern will face off again on Saturday in DeKalb.

Thomas said that playing an opponent twice in three days can be good practice for conference play, when teams play each other on back-to-back days. 

“That will be a good challenge, as that’s what it’s going to be like in conference,” she said. “How can we respond? How can we make adjustments knowing their adjustments? Things like that.”

Thomas said also said that the 4-0 start is something that the team can look back on later in the season and has help them set an early foundation for success.

“Its helping us learn how to win, losing a set or if we’re down in a set and we fight back, or if we’re up to stay up,” she said.

The match Saturday will begin at 6 p.m.

 

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