CHARLESTON — Last season the Eastern Illinois University volleyball team only swept two matches. Only three weeks into this season, the Panthers already have two sweeps.
The first one came last Saturday against UC Davis, which was ranked No. 25 in the mid-major, and then EIU added its second sweep on Friday in the first match of the EIU Panther Classic.
Even though Alabama A&M gave EIU a bit of a scare in the third set, the Panthers pulled through and completed the sweep with a 25-9, 25-12, 29-27 win to improve to 4-3 on the season.
“To win another match in three is always important,” EIU coach Sam Wolinski said. “In that third set, we talked about that. We knew Alabama A&M was going to fight and battle, and we watched that on film all week. Again to get back to our game and execute, our pins got some off-speed shots in the middle of the floor and they implemented their IQ well.”
Maria Brown led EIU with 14 kills and Laurel Bailey had 10 kills and 16 digs. Taylor Smith had 27 assists, eight kills and nine digs and Anne Hughes had 11 digs.
EIU didn’t commit an attack error in the first set. The Panthers had kills on 14 of their 25 attacks to hit .560 in the first set with six different players getting one kill. Smith, Brown and Maggie Runge each had three kills in the first set.
“I think we passed the ball well most of the afternoon,” Wolinski said. “In the first set, our side-out percentage was 100, nine for nine, you will take that any day.”
On the other end, Alabama struggled to get a ball across and hit a negative .161 with 10 attack errors in 31 attack attempts.
The Panthers went on a 5-0 run to take an early 7-2 run and another 4-0 run a little later gave them a 12-4 advantage. With EIU holding a 15-7 lead, the Panthers went on a 10-2 run to finish out the set with a 25-9 victory.
EIU kept rolling right away in the second set as Brown put down a kill and had two aces as the Panthers grabbed a 4-0 lead. EIU did commit its first attack errors of the match with three but still hit .353 for the set.
Alabama A&M had a positive hitting percentage in the second set (.069), but had trouble corralling EIU’s serve, especially from Brown. The senior outside hitter had three aces in the second set and the Panthers had four aces as a team.
“Maria served the ball really well,” Wolinski said. “I think we did a good job with the deep, short game on the serving piece. That’s what we are about, and kudos for us for sticking with it.”
EIU stretched its lead to 12-4 when A&M went on a 3-0 run. The Panthers responded with a 4-0 run for a 16-7 lead. Then when they were up 18-10, the Panthers closed out the second set on a 7-2 run for the 25-10 lead.
Alabama A&M put up more of a challenge in the third set. EIU grabbed an early 3-0 lead, but the Bulldogs cut it to 8-6 and stuck with the Panthers for the rest of the set. EIU later went up 14-10 when A&M cut the lead to 18-17. Abby Knight then got a block and two kills during a 3-1 run to put EIU up 21-18.
The Bulldogs cut the lead to 21-20, but EIU went on a 3-1 run to put the set at match point at 24-21. A&M battled back again and tied the set at 24 with a 3-0 run. Maggie Runge put down a kill for a 25-24 lead, but back-to-back kills by the Bulldogs gave them set point at 26-25 when Wolinski called a timeout.
EIU responded and got a kill by Runge to tie the set. A net violation on EIU gave the Bulldogs set point again when Smith put down a kill to tie the set. Bailey followed with a kill from the back row, and on match point for the third time for the Panthers, Brown put down a kill in the middle of the court for a 29-27 win as EIU swept.
“It’s stuff we’ve been working on in practice, when to terminate for the kill, when to place for the kill,” Wolinski said. “Our hitters are seeing what shots are there. Taylor had some great tips. Maria, that off-speed shot there at the end. Laurel from the back row. We work on that and are recognizing that. Those are the things we’ve been working on and it’s fun to see that translate into a match.”