Volleyball team second in OVC after battle with Skyhawks


Rob Le Cates

After number 20 Emily Wilcox, a junior middle blocker, reconvenes with her team after successfully blocking a spike from UT Martin Skyhawk players during the volleyball game at Lantz Arena Friday afternoon. Wilcox had 6 blocks and scored 7.5 points. The Panthers won 3-2 against the Skyhawks.

Kate Stevens, Assistant Sports Editor

On Friday, top Ohio Valley Conference team UT Martin made the trip north to Charleston for a double header with Eastern. As both matches were exciting and went to five sets each, the Panthers took the first match and the Skyhawks took the second.

EIU moved to a 7-2 record in the OVC and 13-9 overall. UT Martin is now number one in the conference and EIU is right behind them in second.

Playing ten sets of volleyball in one day is no easy task. Third year head coach Sara Thomas said the team came into the matches knowing they had to be at the top of their game against the Skyhawks.

In the first match, EIU won the first two sets and UT Martin won the third and fourth. 

It came down to the last few volleys in the fifth set which ultimately went to EIU. Eastern won 3-2 in the match.

Junior outside hitter Giovana Larregui Lopez had her season high in kills (24) and she also had three services aces during the first match. She credited her team for the success she saw in the match.

“I feel proud of my team because it wouldn’t be possible without them,” Lopez said.

Junior middle blocker Emily Wilcox had a season high number of blocks (6) in the first match.

In the second match of the day, EIU continued their high level of play against UT Martin, but ultimately came up short in the fifth set. They lost the match 3-2.

Freshman setter Catalina Rochaix had a season high 43 assists.

Freshman outside hitter Lilli Amettis had a season high four blocks in the match. Lopez also had a season high of five services aces in the match.

EIU showed its confidence throughout both matches and played high caliber volleyball until the end. 

Sophomore outside hitter Kaitlyn Flynn reflected on the final moments of the second match.

“Going into the fourth set we were saying like ‘this was like one of the toughest matches we’ve played this season’, so going into the fourth set we were saying how important it was to like really turn it up and all of us needed to step up and push through it,” Flynn said. “I think those last few plays we really all just showed that were not a team that’s gonna roll over and give up. Playing ten sets in one day is a tough thing to do.”

Freshman outside hitter Lilli Amettis also said that the team had to keep the focus up as the match came near the end.

“I feel like everyone in the fifth set was just holding each other accountable. We were making sure we were doing the little things,” Amettis said. 

“I think overall our adrenaline was just super high and we knew we had to push as hard as we could. I feel like we just gave it our all.”

After not having a winning season since 2015, the EIU volleyball program has made a turn around after finishing eighth in the OVC with a 4-14 record last season. 

Thomas said getting to this point has taken work over the last few seasons.

“You know, I’m just taking it one weekend at a time. It’s something that we’ve been working on for the last two years, you know, in the offseason,” Thomas said. “We want to make sure that we’re executing and playing at a high, efficient level on our side.”

At the beginning of the season, the Panthers were selected to take the sixth-place finish in the OVC.

EIU is the underdog coming into the season and into the matches with UT Martin, who was selected to finish third. 

The players are pleased with the way the season is going and they are proud of being the underdogs and showing the OVC who they are this season.

“[We have that] underdog mentality. Everybody ranked us sixth and now they’re seeing what we really are about, and I think that’s what we want to show people. We should be the ones you worry about,” junior libero Christina Martinez Mundo said.

Flynn said the team deserves respect as they are the underdog as they are in second place in the OVC.

“We know we deserve respect, like they ranked us sixth, and we’re in second place,” Flynn said. “They’re used to coming and playing EIU in the past years and having it be a rollover, easy sweep, easy game, so I think we really are super determined on earning respect from our opponents and I think we’ve really done a good job of that so far.”

In her first year on the team, Amettis also sees that the team this year is different and have improved from last season.

“I feel like a lot of teams compare us to the team that they were last year, and I feel like they need to not do that because we’re a brand-new team and I feel like it’s just a new program in general and I feel like we’re at a really good place right now,” said Amettis.

There is a lot of volleyball left to be played in the next month, but the Panthers plan on keeping up their confidence and momentum as they finish up the regular season.

“It really doesn’t matter who’s playing on the other side we are a competitive team. So, you’re always going to see EIU being competitive no matter who’s playing on the other side, that’s just our culture and how we are.” Mundo said.

Kate Stevens can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]