CHARLESTON, Ill - For the second time this season, the SIUE volleyball team let a 2-0 set lead slip away as Eastern Illinois rallied for a 3-2 victory Tuesday night from Lantz Arena.
The Cougars, now 6-8 overall and 1-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference, came off the bus firing on all cylinders hitting .583 in the first set with 15 kills and one error.
SIUE opened the match taking the opening four points and continued to press building an 11-5 advantage before Eastern Illinois (3-10 overall, 1-2 OVC) was forced to call its first timeout.
A service ace by Sammi Minton out of the timeout jumped started a 10-1 run for the Cougars. An ace by Chelsea Colclasure put SIUE ahead for good as it went on to close the first set 25-14. The Cougars finished the night with seven aces while the Panthers failed to record an ace.
The momentum carried over into the second set emphasized by strong serving from Cori Harris. The sophomore's heavy top spin serve forced the Panthers out of system en route to an early 4-1 lead.
The biggest point of the set came when Colclasure dove into the first row of the EIU student section to keep a ball alive. A block by Brianne Graunke and Kelsey Augustine eventually won that point for SIUE. Augustine finished with a career-high seven block assists and Graunke equaled a career best with five.
The energy from that play helped the Cougars to a 6-2 run as they staked a 17-10 lead. During that run, four different SIUE players combined for three blocks as the team continued to control the net.
The Panthers inched their way back into the set but SIUE answered and shut the door on the set winning 25-18 for an important 2-0 set lead.
"We were very good in sets one and two. We were very crisp, but we have to be a better all-around team," said SIUE Head Coach Leah Johnson.
In the third set, it was EIU to jump out quickly as it claimed a 5-2 advantage. The Cougars kept within striking distance and rallied back to even the score 10-10 before the Panthers quickly regained control with the next five points.
The Cougars would get to within two but could not overcome the deficit dropping the third set 25-22.
Both teams traded points opening the fourth set until EIU won three straight for a 7-4 advantage. The Panthers increased their lead to 12-7 as they found space between the SIUE block.
After the Cougars evened the score 17-17, EIU claimed eight of the next nine points to win the fourth set and force a decisive fifth set.
With all the momentum in their favor, the Panthers stormed out to a 7-3 lead in the fifth set. A timely solo block by Harris closed the gap for SIUE to 8-6.
Julia Whitfield tooled an attack off the EIU block and the Cougars followed with another block by Augustine and Graunke to get the score to 12-10. Again it was Whitfield who recorded her first ace of the match to keep SIUE alive.
The late rally was not enough as the Panthers closed the match with a 15-12 victory in the fifth set.
SIUE finished with a hitting percentage of .209 while Eastern Illinois hit at a .256 clip.
Whitfield led the Cougars with 13 kills while Jessica Hemann and Harris also reached double figures with 11 and 10, respectively. Hemann set a new career best with a hitting percentage of .625 reaching her 11 kills on only 16 attempts with one error.
Whitfield picked up a double-double recording 11 digs. Minton and Colclasure led the way with 13 digs each and Brooke Smith tallied 12.
The Panthers had four players reach double-figure kills led by 14 from both Katie Kirby and Reynae Hutchinson. Brittany Wallace turned in a game-high 18 digs.
"Win or lose, the people who can make you better are sitting in this room," Johnson told the team after the match. "We have to hold each other more accountable in our training so that when the match gets tough, we get tougher."
Up next for the Cougars is their first OVC road trip with matches Friday at Tennessee State and Saturday at Austin Peay.