Cougars Sweep Past Panthers

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - SIUE erased an eight-point deficit in the final set to close out Eastern Illinois 25-22, 25-15, 25-22 in Ohio Valley Conference volleyball at the Vadalabene Center.

The Cougars improved 10-16 overall and 5-9 in the OVC. Tuesday's win moves SIUE even with EIU in the OVC standings as the Panthers fall to 8-17 overall.

"We've been playing pretty well. The last two weekends we have split. We were excited to come in and have a three-set victory over Eastern Illinois especially after going to their place early in the season. We were up two sets to none and then lost the match in five on their home court. It's kind of a sweet victory for us," said SIUE Head Coach Leah Johnson.

SIUE came from behind in both the first and third sets. The Cougars were down 14-10 in the opening set when Johnson called a timeout. SIUE would rebound to win the next four points, including back-to-back blocks by Julia Whitfield and Jessica Hemann. That set the stage for SIUE to stay even with the Panthers for the rest of the set before pulling away late behind kills from Brianne Graunke, Jessica Hemann, and Sammi Minton.

The Cougars turned in one of their strongest performances of the season at the net with 12 blocks, the most for a three-set match this season.

"It's an area we've needed to improve on. Tonight we certainly were a strong blocking team," said Johnson.

Hemann led the team with six blocks followed by five from Whitfield. Kelsey Augustine and Graunke finished with three each. Brooke Smith collected three solo blocks.

"We also served very aggressive which made their offense predictable. It allowed our blockers to get set up early and really be strong at the net," Johnson said.

EIU picked up a match-high 11 kills from Reynae Hutchison and 10 from Emily Franklin. The Panthers hit .087 for the match, the lowest by any SIUE opponent during the OVC season.

SIUE's aggressive play picked up in the second set when the team soared to a 10-3 lead early. EIU would only be able to pull within four points the rest of the set as the Cougars, which finished the match with a .258 hitting percentage, grabbed the two-set lead.

Franklin lifted the Panthers early when she served seven straight times in the third set. EIU grabbed a 13-5 lead. The Cougars pecked away at the lead before overtaking the Panthers at 21-20 on a kill by Graunke, who led the Cougars with 10 kills. Johnson said the game plan was to go to Graunke on the right side.

"We wanted to set her all night long," she said. "Sammi Minton did a great job executing it and our passers kept us in system to allow us to do that."

SIUE now makes its only OVC trip to the Eastern time zone this weekend. The Cougars face Eastern Kentucky Friday at 7 p.m. ET followed by OVC leader Morehead State Saturday at 2 p.m.

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