The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

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EIU Volleyball clinches NCAA Tournament spot

Easterns+volleyball+team+celebrate+their+3-0+win+against+the+University+of+Missouri+Thursday+night.+
Ashanti Thomas
Eastern’s volleyball team celebrate their 3-0 win against the University of Missouri Thursday night.

2001 was the last time the Panthers went dancing in the NCAA Tournament.

22 years later, after sweeping the Southeast Missouri Redhawks 3-0 on Wednesday evening in Grongier Arena, Eastern won the Ohio Valley Conference Championship and punched their ticket into the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament.

“I can’t describe how I’m feeling right now,” senior libero/defensive specialist Christina Martinez Mundo said. “I’m super happy for my team. We were able to be regular season champions and push through to also be tournament champions. It feels amazing.”

The Panthers got off to a hot start to begin the first set with a pair kills from Panthers’ sophomore middle blocker Kate Dean.

A kill and service ace from Panthers’ senior middle blocker Emily Wilcox gave the Panthers an early 6-1 lead.

The two teams would trade points until an error from the Redhawks would give the Panthers a six-point lead. A service ace from Martinez Mundo would give the Panthers their largest lead of the set and force a Redhawk timeout.

Following the timeout, the Redhawks surged for six-straight points to cut the lead to one and make the score 12-11.

From there, the score would remain close until back-to-back errors from the Redhawks would put the Panthers up four with the score of 20-16.

Kills from Panthers’ graduate outside hitter Natalie Mitchem as well as Martinez Mundo would inch the Panthers closer to winning the first set, and one final kill from junior outside hitter Kaitlyn Flynn helped the Panthers win the first set 25-21.

The Panthers took another strong lead in the second set. With kills from Dean and senior outside hitter Giovana Larregui López, Eastern found themselves up 9-3.

During this set, Dean and Larregui López both recorded seven kills while Flynn led the team with nine in the second set.

Ending the set with a kill from Wilcox and consecutive kills from Flynn, the Panthers won the second set 25-16.

To start the third set, the Redhawks responded by giving themselves a three-point lead.

A kill from Flynn would spark a Panthers run which saw them tally six straight points to give them a 7-4 lead in the third set.

From there, the Redhawks would score two quick points and the teams would trade until the score read 10-10.

The score remained tight as the Panthers battled for the right to be called OVC Champions.

Wilcox, Dean, and Larregui López would all contribute kills to inch closer to a tournament championship. After a kill by Larregui López that put the Panthers up 20-17, the Redhawks would error on consecutive points, increasing the Panthers’ lead to five.

The teams then traded errors before a kill from Mitchem would secure a match point, and a final kill from Mitchem would crown the Panthers OVC Champions as they won the third set 25-20.

After the game, Panthers’ Head Coach Sara Thomas spoke on the team’s clean sweep through the tournament.

“All the grind through the past [few] years and trusting the process this year; it’s incredible,” Thomas said.

Thomas, in her fourth year as head coach, has now led the team to a regular season as well as conference championship. This is Thomas’ first OVC Championship throughout her time with Eastern.

“It’s my fourth year,” Thomas said. “I got hired in 2020. We had a vision and a goal, and we did what we needed to get to this point right here.”

“I’ve been here for four years,” Martinez Mundo said. “To finally pull it off, I’m just thankful for the opportunity,”

Along with the OVC Championship, Martinez Mundo was also awarded the OVC Championship Tournament most valuable player after the game.

 “I wasn’t expecting [the MVP], but hard work pays off. I’m happy we won tonight.”

Martinez Mundo also noted that home court advantage was also a big boost for the team.

“We love bringing the community together and seeing the stands packed up,” Martinez Mundo said. “It helps a lot. It gives that extra motivation.”

Senior student Will Redden stayed on campus and went to the game to support the volleyball team.

“This was the greatest atmosphere I’ve ever seen,” Redden said. “Even though most students weren’t on campus, the city of Charleston really came out and showed their support for the team.”

With the OVC Championship win, the Panthers have booked themselves an automatic bid in the 2023 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament.

The sports staff can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Zaria Flippin, Sports Editor
Zaria Flippin is a junior sports media relations major. This is her first year at The News.
Maurice Phipps, Sports Reporter
Maurice Phipps can be reached at [email protected] or 581-2812.
Ashanti Thomas, Photographer
Ashanti Thomas is a senior digital media major. She previously served as photo editor and assistant photo editor at The News.

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