Volleyball team honors seniors with weekend showdown against Tennessee Tech


Han Byer

Seniors Ireland Heib (left), Summerlynn Smith (middle), and Annika Black (right), run out of the fan tunnel before their match against Tennessee Tech at Lantz Arena. The Panthers lost 3-2 against the Golden Eagles.

Autumn Schulz, Sports Editor

It was two days of close calls in Lantz Arena. 

The Eastern volleyball team worked to send its seniors out with wins as it battled Tennessee Tech in a weekend showdown, ultimately falling short on both Friday and Saturday. 

Some of the shortcomings came at the hands of challenges. 

On Friday evening, the Panthers were battling deep into the fourth set with a 24-23 lead. The ball had gone back and forth between the Panthers and the Golden Eagles four times as each team kept the game alive through their defense. 

Sophomore outside hitter Kaitlyn Flynn spiked the ball down to end the back-and-forth, giving the Panthers the 25-23 win. However, the call was challenged and won by Golden Eagles head coach Jeannette Phillips, tying the match 24-24. 

Senior middle blocker Ireland Hieb said that winning and losing challenges affects the momentum of the match. 

“It definitely shifts the game, like if you don’t get it back, you’re winning it,” Hieb said. “She really listens to us. If there’s a touch on the ball, if there’s not a touch, like it’s really a two-way street.” 

After the Golden Eagles won the challenge, a series of attack errors by the Panthers allowed the Golden Eagles to build a 26-25 lead.  

The Panthers responded as junior outside hitter Giovana Larregui Lopez tied the match once again with a kill on the left side of the net. 

Outside hitter Giovana Larregui Lopez spikes the ball against Tennessee Tech during their match at Lantz Arena. The Panthers lost 3-2 against the Golden Eagles. (Han Byer)

However, the Golden Eagles capitalized on a kill and an attack error by the Panthers, sealing the 28-26 victory, and giving the Golden Eagles the 3-1 advantage. 

Hieb said that the match was in the hands of the officials but that the hunger to win was sparked by the energy in Lantz. 

“It was just, I felt like the game was more in the refs’ hands because they kept challenging and we kept challenging and I was just like, we did really the whole game,” Hieb said. “We were fighting, like, everyone, even on the bench. It was so loud, and we wanted to win and we’re doing everything we could to win.” 

Flynn and Lopez led the Panthers offensively with 16 and 17 kills, respectively. Freshman setter Catalina Rochaix set a new career and season high in assists with 44.  

Hieb had eight kills and three blocks while Annika Black also had three blocks. The Panthers’ defense made their presence known junior libero Chirstina Martinez Mundo had 12 digs. 

Mundo was all over the court as one of her defensive highlights came in the second set when she dove for the ball, ultimately keeping it alive, as she landed in the bleachers behind the Panthers’ bench. 

Mundo echoed Hieb by saying that playing down to the last few points is what she looks forward to the most. 

“It’s actually what athletes live for,” Mundo said. “I live for those types of moments. So, it’s really enjoyable even though we could have finished earlier. It’s all right, things happen, it’s very unpredictable. So, just like enjoy, like not get tense, just have fun and try to maximize your teammates.” 

Game Two 

Senior Day came to Lantz Arena on Saturday evening as the Panthers honored Ireland Hieb, Summerlyn Smith, and Annika Black in a five-set thriller. 

The fifth set is always a race to 15 points, and it showed as the Panthers and the Golden Eagles were neck and neck the entire set. 

After the block by freshman middle blocker Kate Dean, the crowd in Lantz Arena exploded in cheers as the Panthers had a 13-10 advantage. 

The Golden Eagles answered back with a kill and then Lilli Amettis stepped up on the left side to give the Panthers the 14-11 lead. 

Senior middle blocker Ireland Hieb said that all she could think about was one thing; winning. 

“I think I was just thinking we’re gonna win, we’re gonna win, we’re gonna win and we got so close, and I think that’s the hardest part, that we were so close, and we didn’t get it,” Hieb. “But it’s just going into that mindset of we will win. Like next game, I’m going to say that myself.” 

A kill and a block by the Golden Eagles then put them within one point of the Panthers. 

Madolyn Isringhausen would step up to the net to tie the set 14-14. 

Senior outside hitter Annika Black said that as the set came to a tie, all the Panthers could do was give it their everything. 

“I was just like, it’s do or die at this point, like there’s nothing else to give,” Black said. “So, just give it your all.” 

A service ace by Aleeya Jones would give the Golden Eagles the lead and a kill by Brooke Amann would seal the 3-2 win for the Golden Eagles. 

Despite the loss, the Panthers had a lot of players step up to the net when it mattered most. Junior outside hitter Giovana Larregui Lopez had a career-high of 26 kills. 

In the fifth set, Lopez had three kills back-to-back on the left side of the net, fueling the momentum for Dean’s block in the middle. 

Freshman outside hitter Lilli Amettis had 11 kills while Kaitlyn Flynn and Kate Dean added six kills each. 

Freshman setter Catalina Rochaix led the way with 24 assists. 

Hieb said that she and the other seniors are confident that they are leaving behind a talented group of younger players. 

“Yeah, I definitely think so,” Hieb said. “Like, we have a really good group of freshmen and sophomores and like, I’m really excited to watch them after I graduate and see what they can do.” 

Senior setter Summerlyn Smith had 20 assists and seven digs to help the defense led by junior libero Christina Martinez Mundo. 

Mundo had 13 digs and ten additional Panthers had at least one dig. Hieb and Black each had two block assists while Ella Collins had two solo blocks. 

After the game, the three seniors stood together and reflected on their time together as Panthers. 

Hieb, who has been a Panther the longest out of the three seniors, said that they are leaving behind a culture that they can be proud of. 

“Like, surreal. Like, it feels like yesterday when I committed, and I’ve been here the longest with Sara and stuff, even before her, and it’s just crazy to see how much we’ve grown,” Hieb said. “We’ve gotten so much closer, and their culture has grown so much, so, I’m really proud of what we’re leaving behind.” 

Black said that accepting the fact that her time as a Panther is not easy. 

“I’m not really ready for it to end,” Black said. “But, as it’s getting closer, it’s just more of like really just wanting to give it my all.” 

Smith went along with Hieb and said that the growth of the Panther volleyball program has made her appreciative.  

“I think it’s definitely sad but like, I’m just super proud of like I said, what we’re leaving behind and how much Panther volleyball had grown in the past couple of years,” Smith said. 

The Panthers will be back in Lantz Arena for the final home game of the season on Wednesday at 6 p.m. to take on Southern Indiana. 

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