Volleyball team to open season at Butler Top Dawg Tournament


Monique Peterson

Summerlyn Smith, a senior setter, regroups with her team after a play during their exhibition game against University of Missouri- St. Louis on Saturday afternoon at Lantz Arena.

Autumn Schulz, Sports Editor

The Eastern volleyball team will open its 2022 season on the road at the Butler Top Dawg Tournament in Indianapolis, Ind. Friday morning. 

The Panthers will play in the first match of the tournament against Butler at 11 a.m. Then they will play Akron at 2p.m. on Friday and Oakland at 11 a.m. on Saturday to wrap up tournament play. 

Last season, Panthers were 11-18 overall and 4-15 in conference. They were the eighth seed headed into the Ohio Valley Conference Volleyball Championship but were knocked out in the first round after losing 3-0 to No.1 Southeast Missouri.  

Coach Sara Thomas said that the team will be utilizing the next four weekends of tournaments in order to prepare for conference play, which begins on Sept. 23.  

“I go into every tournament hoping for the best outcome. The best outcome for us is how can we continue to grow our team chemistry and learn and continue to get one percent better each match so that come conference in one month, that’s when our season really starts,” Thomas said. “All four of these weekends is in prep for conference. At the end of the season, where are we? We just take it one day at a time in our training, in our recovery and in our development to prepare us for conference and end of season.”  

The Panthers relied heavily on their junior outside hitters Elisavet Papageorgious and Ella Collins during their exhibition match against Missouri St. Louis last weekend. Both players had 10 kills during the match to help seal the 3-0 win.  

Freshman setter Catalina Rochaix and senior setter Summerlyn Smith also shared success on the floor against the Tritons. Rochaix had 19 assists and 10 digs while Smith had 13 assists and five digs. Defensively, the Panthers will look to Christiana Martinez Mundo and Ashley Sharkus. Mundo had 11 digs against the Tritons and Sharkus had eight.  

Thomas said that keeping the chemistry between the team alive on and off the floor is easy for the team. 

“We talk about it every day at practice. We talk about it through our texting, we live it. It’s not just a two-to-three-hour deal in practice, it’s a life choice,” Thomas said. “You’re a part of our program and these are our core values, and we talk about it. It’s in the locker room, it’s on the whiteboard and that’s how even through the hard days, we get through it.”  

The Panthers have not faced off against the Bulldogs since 2018. Last season, the Bulldogs were 16-16 overall and 10-8 in the Big East Conference. Last Saturday, the Bulldogs faced off against Bradley in an exhibition game, which they ended up losing 3-2.  

Sophomore outside hitter Mariah Grunze led the Bulldogs’ offense during the match last week with 15 kills, four digs, and three assists. Senior outside hitter Megan Sherida added 11 kills and 10 digs and sophomore middle blocker Amina Shackelford had eight kills and five blocks. 

Junior libero Jaymeson Kinle had 14 digs and three assists to lead the Bulldogs while graduate student Maddie Renn had 13 digs and two assists.  

Thomas said that both the Bulldogs and the Panthers will be going into the first game blindly.  

“They have played an exhibition game, but we haven’t seen them. Both Butler and us are going into the game blinded,” Thomas said. “So, I can’t say what I expect from them, our focus is on us. What can we prepare our ladies for? What we want to focus on is our strengths to go into the game. Then after a couple points, a set, two sets, then we can adjust based on what they’re doing. It’s all about the Panthers.”