Kate Hendle had a match-best 52 assists against SIUE on Saturday, helping Eastern secure a win. (Trey Burke)

By Nick Johnson

Consistent and balanced play is going to be crucial for Eastern’s volleyball team to make it into the OVC Tournament this year. That was made perfectly clear this past weekend.The Colonels (5-16, 4-7 OVC) lost on Thursday to Morehead State, but won on Saturday against Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE). Consistency, or the lack of it, played a pivotal role in both games for Eastern.

The Colonels match up at Morehead (17-7, 9-3 OVC) began with Eastern winning the first set 25-23. Eastern’s attack percentage was .424, compared to Morehead’s .211.

However, Morehead went on to win the next three sets 25-15, 25-22, and 25-15. In both the second and fourth sets, Eastern recorded negative attack percentages (-.067 and -.032) and lost by ten. In the third set Morehead out hit Eastern .302 to .186.

“We weren’t aggressive enough. We weren’t balanced,” head coach Lori Duncan said. “We talk about balance, but we had only two hitters in double figures, we have to be more balanced in our scoring.”

Junior outside hitter Lauren Snyder had a match-high, 13 kills for the Colonels. Snyder also had 14 digs, making it her fourth double-double of the season. Senior outside hitter Lindsey Loescher also had double-digit kills with 11.

Junior libero Abby O’Connor led the Colonels with 20 digs. Junior setter Kate Hendle had 39 assists for the match.

Morehead was lead by junior outside hitter Kaitlin Craven’s 11 kills and 12 digs.

Net play was an advantage for the Eagles as they had 13 total team blocks to Eastern’s four. Freshmen middle hitter Annie Gruenschlaeger had 10 block assists to go with nine kills for the Eagles. Gruenschlaeger was named this week’s OVC Defensive Player of the Week.

“We had tremendous momentum after game one,” Duncan said. “We have to be willing to take advantage of that situation. We didn’t. We were inconsistent; the stats show it, our record shows it.”

Saturday’s game against SIUE at home could have been a trap or letdown game for Eastern coming off the loss at Morehead.

The Cougars came into the match 1-21 and the game wouldn’t count in the OVC standings, as SIUE is transitioning into full Division I and OVC membership.

However, instead of a letdown, Eastern found consistent play and won in four sets.

Set scores for the match were 25-15, 25-27, 25-20, and 25-21. The Colonels led the entire first and third sets.

The Colonels had four players score double-digit kills, and three players record double-digit digs.

Loescher and sophomore middle blocker Hannah Groudle led the Colonels with 14 kills.

Snyder added 13 kills and junior middle blocker Autumn Harms contributed 12 kills and four solo blocks.

“When we have four players score double-digit kills, there is no question whether or not we are going to win,” Duncan said. “That is the balance we need and the consistency we work for in practice.”

Hendle’s 52 assists moved her up to fourth on Eastern’s all-time assists list with a total of 2182 for her career. She needs 25 more to move into third all-time.

With a match-high 29 digs, O’Connor moved up to eighth place on Eastern’s all-time digs list. She has 1152 for her career.

Junior outside hitter Sydney Winslow led SIUE (1-22) with 21 kills.

Eastern begins its last seven conference games of the season with two games at home this weekend.

The Colonels are a half game behind Southeast Missouri State (9-14, 5-7 OVC) for sixth place in the conference. The top six teams make the OVC Tournament. Murray State (6-16, 6-6 OVC) is in fifth.

The Colonels face Tennessee State (3-19, 2-9 OVC) at 7 p.m. on Friday in McBrayer Arena. Eastern then takes on Austin Peay (17-6, 10-2 OVC) Saturday at noon. The Colonels lost 3-2 to Austin Peay in Clarksville earlier this season.

“We don’t just have to be consistent those two games,” Hendle said. “The whole team’s consistency is key for the rest of the season.