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The Eastern Illinois women’s basketball team has a tougher task in its second game of the season. The Panthers opened up with a non-NCAA Division I team to start off the season in Oakland City and once again play another Indiana team today in the second game. Butler is EIU’s second opponent and it’s a team that EIU head coach Matt Bollant feels could compete for the Ohio Valley Conference title if Butler played in the conference.

The Bulldogs, who are in the Big East, are coming off a 15-17 season and were 6-12 in conference play. Today’s game is the season-opener for the Bulldogs.

Butler has the pieces to improve on last year’s 15-17 mark since the Bulldogs are returning their top two starters - point guard Whitney Jennings and forward Tori Schickel. Those two should give EIU plenty to worry about for the 11 a.m. tipoff today at Hinkel Fieldhouse.

“We are excited. We know they are going to be a good challenge and will be as good as a team as we will face anyone all year. Their point guard and post are as good as anyone we will see all year,” Bollant said. “We know this is going to be a tough test but excited to see where we are at. They have a great combination with Jennings and Schickel and some other good players as well. This team would compete for the league with Belmont.”

Bollant is familiar with Jennings. He saw her when he was coaching at Illinois because Jennings is an Iowa transfer. Last season Jennings averaged 16.8 points per game and she hit 80 three-points. She added 41 steals on the defensive end.

EIU isn’t lacking in guard talent, though. Grace Lennox scored her 1,000th point of her career in the win against Oakland City and both Taylor Steele and Karle Pace are coming off strong freshmen seasons.

Bollant said before the season that he likes how his guard play matches up with about anyone in the OVC and the guards will be tested against Jennings.

“She can play. She can get to the rim, can shoot it and is quick and smart. She is a complete point guard. She has a great pull up jumper as well,” Bollant said. “I feel good about our guard play. I think our guards can compare with anyone in our league. We are a little young but with Grace and Taylor has gotten off to a great start, I’ve liked our guard play.”

Schickel provides the first real test for EIU in the paint this season. Schickel, who is 6-1, averaged 16.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game last season.

Bollant wasn’t pleased with the rebounding in the team’s exhibition win against Illinois Wesleyan but he thought it improved against Oakland City. The Panthers pulled down 59 rebounds and did a good job keeping Oakland CIty away from getting many offensive rebounds.

Jennifer Nehls had 10 rebounds against Oakland City and Grace McRae had six. Bollant likes how those two have played so far this season and they will have to continue to play well against Butler.

“We had a really good practice. We were physical and we hope that’s what we see (today),” Bollant said. “Jenn and (Grace McRae) have been playing well. The question is can we rebound against bigger kids and score inside.”

The game can be heard on Hit Mix 88.9 FM.

Contact Justin Rust at (217) 238-6856. Follow him on Twitter: @JustinRust

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