By Jason Finnell
When head coach Lori Duncan scheduled the volleyball team for a trip to Tampa to take on Northeastern, South Florida, and Grambling State in the University of South Florida Invitational, she figured these were games the team could win. However, she did not plan the hard luck the team would encounter before the first game even started. As a result, the team could only muster one victory, against Grambling State.During practice last Tuesday, sophomore setter Kate Hendle went down with a leg injury that will require surgery. She will be out four to six weeks. Furthermore, minutes before the team’s Friday morning walk-through was scheduled to end, junior Autumn Harms went down with a severe injury that will sideline her for the rest of the season.
“Losing your starting center with just minutes left in practice is a big blow to a team,” Duncan said. “If we had Autumn and Kate, it would’ve been competitive,” she added, referencing the South Florida match.
Duncan says that trying to replace a setter is “like putting a quarterback in who’s never played quarterback before,” but added that freshman replacement Jill Henneman did a great job. “We asked her to do a lot,” Duncan said.
Henneman led the team in game one, recording 18 assists against Northeastern. Newcomer Lindsey Loescher led the Colonels with eight kills in the loss (25-17, 25-23, 25-11).
In game two, Eastern lost to Big East opponent USF (25-11, 25-14 25-14). Loescher again led the Colonels with nine kills and seven digs. Despite the match being only Loescher’s second in her short stay at Eastern, Duncan feels that Loescher thrives off of bigger competition.
The Colonels won their first match of the year against Grambling State in the third and final game of the tournament. Grambling didn’t go down without a fight, however, extending the match to five sets (E 25-16, E 25-12, G 25-20, G 25-19, E 15-9).
Loescher once again led Eastern with 14 kills and seven digs. Freshman Hannah Groudle added 11 kills. Henneman totaled 35 assists, while sophomore Abby O’Connor led the team with 12 digs.
So while the team may have left much to be desired coming out of its weekend trip to the Sunshine State, Duncan recognized that they had salvaged what they could, given the circumstances.
“It’s going to be a rocky road. You can’t take someone (Henneman) and put them at setter and expect them to replace someone (Hendle) who’s been doing it five, six, years of their life.”
Ultimately, she believes this early adversity will help the team as it enters the conference schedule, and likes how the team has responded so far.
“Recognize that this is going to create great opportunity. That opportunity is hidden in adversity,” she said. “All of this can serve a purpose.