Volleyball team wins ‘big’ at OVC awards


Rob Le Cates

Giovana Larregui Lopez, a junior outside hitter, jumps to spike the ball during the volleyball of the second set of the first game against the UT Martin Skyhawks at Lantz Arena Friday afternoon. Lopez had 24 kills, 5 kills, and scored 27 points. The Panthers won 3-2 against the Skyhawks.

Autumn Schulz, Sports Editor

Two weeks ago, the Eastern volleyball team saw its historic 2022 season come to an end after being knocked out of the OVC Tournament by Southeast Missouri in a five-set thriller.

The Panthers had previously swept the Redhawks in two regular season matches, getting their revenge after the Panthers’ 2021 season came to an end after being swept 3-0 by the Redhawks in the opening round of the OVC Tournament.

This time around, the Panthers and the Redhawks met in the quarterfinals and went all five sets, but the Redhawks ultimately came out on top with a 2-3 victory, sending them to the semifinals where they knocked out second-seeded UT Martin and then onto the finals where they lost to third-seeded Tennessee State.

The five-set match was tied 33 times and there were 16 lead changes. The fourth set saw 19 ties and 10 lead changes, alone.

All but two sets were won with a two-point margin for both teams. The Redhawks took set one with a score of 25-23 and set two with a score on 27-25 as the Panthers could not avoid the block by the Redhawks.

The Panthers were down 2-0 as the chance to get swept by SEMO back-to-back crept closer but the Panthers were able to secure a 25-17 victory in the third set and a 28-26 victory in the fourth set.

The fifth set was won by the Redhawks 15-9 after they posted a .471 hitting percentage.

Junior outside hitter Giovana Larregui Lopez led the Panthers with 20 kills and five service aces. Sophomore outside hitter Kaitlyn Flynn was second on the team with 13 kills and two aces.

Freshman outside hitter Lilli Amettis had 11 kills and five block assists while freshman middle blocker Kate Dean added 12 kills and 10 block assists, making her the first Panther of the season to reach double digit blocks.

Junior libero Christina Martinez Mundo broke the single season digs record for EIU during the match as she collected 14. Setters Catalina Rochaix and Summerlyn Smith combined for 56 assists.

The Panthers had a historic season as some of their season highs had not been reached since the 2015 season. They finished with 1,483 kills, 1375 assists, and 16 overall wins and 10 OVC wins, all the most in their respective categories since 2015.

The Panthers also had 1,701 digs, which is the most since the 2018 season. Mundo finished her junior season with 599 digs.

On the eve of the OVC Tournament, the OVC hosts their annual awards banquet where they announce All-OVC first and second teams, along with OVC Player of the Year.

The Panthers’ own Giovana Larregui Lopez won OVC Player of the Year, making her the first Panther to do so since 2004. Lopez had 385 kills in 96 sets while averaging 4.01 kills per set through the OVC matches.

She led the Panthers with 1,058 kills and in service aces with 48, the most in a single season since 2003. She also tied the EIU record for kills in a three-match set with 26 against Southern Indiana.

The Panther volleyball team celebrates scoring a point against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles at Lantz Arena. The Panthers lost 3-1 against the Golden Eagles. (Han Byer)

Kaitlyn Flynn missed the first two weeks of the season and still managed to win first team All-OVC honors. Flynn finished with 368 kills this season and her season high of 29 came against Eastern Kentucky, the most kills in a single match by any OVC player this season.

Christina Martinez Mundo not only broke the single season dig record, but she won second team All-OVC honors. She was third in the OVC in digs per set and in total digs. In the NCAA, she ranked seventh in total digs and 17th in digs per set.

Academically, the Panthers had three members recognized by the College Sports Communicators; Ella Collins, Ashley Sharkus and Summerlyn Smith. The All-District honorees will be on the ballot for Academic All-America consideration.

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