Volleyball to face off against first place UT Martin


Han Byer

Freshman outside and opposite hitter, Lilli Amettis (left), and junior libero and defensive Specialist Christina Martinez Mundo (right) celebrate with their team after scoring a point in the third set against the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Cougars at Lantz Arena Friday evening. The Panthers won 3-1 against the Cougars.

Autumn Schulz, Sports Editor

The battle for first place in the OVC will be in Lantz Arena on Friday at 11 a.m. as the Eastern volleyball will be facing off against UT Martin in a doubleheader.  

The Panthers are coming off a back-to-back sweep of Southeast Missouri, putting them in second place in the OVC with a 6-1 record. The Skyhawks took first place after they defeated Tennessee State earlier this week, giving them a one match advantage of 7-1. 

There were many players that stepped up against the Redhawks last week that helped the Panthers seal the back-to-back sweeps. 

One of those players was sophomore outside hitter Kaitlyn Flynn. Flynn leads the Panthers with 208 kills. Against the Redhawks, Flynn managed to put down 23 kills, pushing her double-digit match streak to eight. 

Flynn said that beating the Redhawks last week gave the team some redemption after being defeated by them in the first round of the OVC Tournament last season. 

“I mean, it feels awesome,” Flynn said. “Like, last year we played them three times in the regular season and then they were our first round for the tournament, and they went 3-0 with us every time. So, we’re just super happy with how we played and our resiliency through the whole match and we were being super disciplined.” 

Another younger player that has stepped up to the net this season is freshman outside hitter Lilli Amettis. Amettis is now seventh in the OVC in hitting percentage with a .283. She has 101 kills for the season, which is fourth on the team. She had 12 kills against the Redhawks last week. 

Amettis said that the next two matches against the Skyhawks will be a breeze for the Panthers if they take the floor with the same confidence, they had against the Redhawks. 

“I definitely feel like it’s a bigger game for all of us,” Amettis said. “I feel like the atmosphere is going to be really good. I feel like all of us are going to be super high, we’re going to have all the energy that we need. I feel like if we just walk out super confident just like we did with SEMO, we got the game in the bag.” 

Last season around this time, the Panthers were 0-9 in conference play. The program has taken a sharp turn this season, making their presence known in the conference standings despite being picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll. 

Coach Sara Thomas credits the turnaround to the work her players put in during the offseason with the beach volleyball program.  

“The work the girls put in the offseason from beach. Over the summer, they lifted five days a week and they had open gym five days a week,” Thomas said. “The constant talk about how we want our culture to be is the big reason. I don’t know if they even realize it of why we’re in the situation that we’re in now and that they all have this belief of where we want to go and that they wholeheartedly feel that we can get there through staying in the moment. So those are the things that I think have gotten us to where we are.” 

The Skyhawks are led by Karlen Scanlon with 231 kills which also leads the OVC. Logan Wallick also has put down over 200 kills this season, pushing the Skyhawks’ average to 12.81 kills per set. 

Dylan Mott has over 300 digs this season while Mia Saenz has 76 blocks to add to the defensive effort for the Skyhawks. 

The Panthers are averaging 12.60 kills per set and are sixth in the conference with a .177 hitting percentage. 

Although other teams may feel the pressure to come out on top Friday, Thomas said that it’s just another game and that the Panthers’ winning behavior will help them prevail.  

“No, I don’t feel that way at all. I feel that it’s another game because we’re taking every opponent the same and keeping the focus on us that no matter where we play,” Thomas said. We want to make sure that we are consistent, and we are confident in what we’re doing within our system, within our winning behaviors and our culture. So regardless, those are our expectations, and so far, it’s been working out. We hope that it will still continue to work out, we were preseason pick six, that’s our goal. That’s where we want to finish and if we finish higher then that’s a bonus.” 

Flynn said that the Panthers are out for blood this season and the rest of the conference should expect a team that is not easy to roll over.  

“I mean, that says like everything. We have been trying to earn the respect from like the other teams in the conference,” Flynn said. “They preseason ranked us sixth place so we are really using that as motivation to show everyone we’re not a team that’s going to roll over like we might have been in the past. We are out for blood, like we want to win. We have the motivation, the determination, and I think we’re just doing a lot to build our confidence and really realize that we’re a winning program.” 

The second match will take place 90 minutes after the first match and there will be free pizza from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 

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