Volleyball team loses 3-0 to No. 25 Fighting Illini


Brejona Hutchinson

Number 11 Kaitlyn Flynn, a sophomore outside hitter, spikes the ball during the volleyball game against the Illinois State University Redbirds at Lantz Arena Wednesday evening. The Panthers lost 3-0 to the Redbirds.

Autumn Schulz, Sports Editor

The Eastern volleyball team lost 3-0 to No. 25 Illinois Wednesday night in Lantz Arena, dropping the last two sets by two and three points, respectively.

The Panthers are now 5-6 overall and in fourth place in the OVC.

The match was highly competitive, especially in the final two sets.

The second set went to the Illini 25-23 after the Panthers challenged a call that called the Fighting Illini’s serve in, the call was reversed, knocking the lead back to 24-23. However, a ball handling error on the next serve for the Panthers would allow the Fighting Illini to win the set.

The Illini took the third set 25-22. However, the Panthers were able to claw their way back from a 19-15 lead and tie the set 22-22. The Illini were able to get two kills in a row and then a service error on the Panthers’ part ended the set, allowing the Illini to seal the match win.

Coach Sara Thomas said that she could not be more pleased with how her team played against the 25th team in the country.

“Doesn’t matter who you play, as long as we keep the focus on us and keep learning every game. You know how we talked earlier in the week about wanting to close sets out and play cleaner towards the end? I actually thought that we did that better than last week,” Thomas said. “I mean, we were competing with the 25th team in the country and in the second and third we lost by two points. I couldn’t be more proud of them to just come out and battle.”

The Panthers had a total of 26 kills compared to the Illini’s 41 and a hitting percentage of .174, which is below their average of .240. The Panthers were also outmatched in size as the Illini posted 22 blocks compared to the Panthers’ 14.

The Panthers were led offensively by sophomore outside hitter Kaitlyn Flynn who posted nine kills on 33 attempts. Flynn also helped defensively with seven digs.

Flynn said that she owes it to her teammates for the way that she performed.

“I’m super thankful for my team being there for me. My setters, middles and Annika Black giving me a great ball to swing at and the DSs for working hard and the defense and servers,” Flynn said. “I feel really good about it.”

Senior middle blocker Ireland Hieb and outside hitter Annika Black were a dominate duo on the court as they had four blocks in the second set alone. Hieb had eight blocks to lead the Panthers while Black had five.

Hieb said that she relies on Black just like Black relies on her to make plays.

“For blocking, it’s all middles and pins. They helped me out so much and they talked to me, and I talked to them, and we worked really weel together, especially with Annika on the right side and it showed,” Hieb said. “My blocks are her blocks, and she gets assists too, so it’s us together.

Number 4 Christina Martinez Mundo, a junior defensive specialist and libero, is welcomed back to the bench after subbing for one of her teammates during the volleyball game against the Illinois State University Redbirds at Lantz Arena Wednesday evening. Mundo had 3 attacks and 17 digs, scoring 1 point. The Panthers lost 3-0 to the Redbirds. (Brejona Hutchinson)

Defensively, junior libero Christina Martinez Mundo was all over the court collecting 17 digs. Catalina Rochaix and Summerlyn also chipped in with six digs. Rochaix led the team with 13 assists while Smith had seven coming off the bench.

Thomas said that she is confident that if her team can keep the same momentum against Toledo this weekend, they will come out on top.

“If we can compete and be that close in a game against Illinois, we can do that against anybody and that if we have ultimate belief of continue to improve and trust our process, anything is possible,” Thomas said. “I can’t determine what the future is going to hold but I’m just, in this moment, really proud of how we played especially heading into this weekend against Toledo, who is a really tough team as well.”

Hieb said that if the team plays just as well in conference play, then they will be pleased with the results.

“It’s a loss on the paper but we don’t feel like it’s a loss, for us it was wins, we had so many small wins and unstated stats that really like are gonna help us going into OVC play and I think if we play like we did tonight against Illinois in OVC, we will be at the top,” Hieb said.

The Panthers will be back in action on Friday at the Toledo Challenge in Toledo, Ohio, with the first match set to start at 5 p.m.

Autumn Schulz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]