By JOEY CHAPMAN
Sports have always gone beyond the numbers.
Take a look at the record for the Colonels volleyball team and one of the first things that catches the eye is a 7-18 record this season. It could easily lead someone to believe this is an underachieving team who’s destined for nothing.
Make no bones about it: the team isn’t necessarily proud of the overall record it has right now. Digging deeper, however, it knows its better than seven wins.
The Colonels easily had the toughest non-conference schedule in the Ohio Valley Conference; arguably one of the toughest in the nation.
What could the team have possibly gotten out of playing some of the top teams in the nation?
Putting itself against these teams showed Eastern its weaknesses and where it needs to be. The top teams were aggressive, dynamic, and fast, while always playing as a cohesive unit. The Colonels were not that point yet.
The losses piled up for Eastern and confidence sank a little, which crept a into the team’s OVC play. In the first half of its OVC season, the team won four out of its eight games. It wasn’t truly until recently that the team began to flex its muscle.
Head Coach Lori Duncan knows her team should have beat Southeast Missouri and UT Martin. Sloppy play allowed the Colonels to drop both games, leading Duncan to make a decision that she had to work her team harder than she had before.
“We were supposed to have the Monday of fall break off, but we conditioned and we conditioned hard,” she admitted. “The next day, we split our practice up for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.”
“You’ve got to get after this every day,” Duncan said. “There is no taking a competitive day off.”
A coach can do all the directing they want, but players don’t have to follow it. Luckily for Duncan, she saw two of her players naturally develop into leaders that all of the players could look up to.
“Ally (Peters) and Rachel (Vick), as the two seniors on the team, I’ve got to give them a lot of credit,” said Duncan. “I think at a certain point in the last week and a half after we struggled mightily at SEMO and Martin, those two have picked up the pieces and are really leading the team.”
Players began stepping up and the Colonels’ conference record followed suit.
Eastern went on the road to beat Jacksonville State in three and Tennessee Tech in four. The next weekend, it faced both teams again and the matches warranted the same results.
Alas, their season is still alive and well.
If the team was playing as it is now earlier in the season, it could easily be above .500. However, the overall record doesn’t matter anymore as its sights are set on just winning every game it can in the OVC.
Despite Eastern’s record, a strong finish in the OVC could make all of the difference in the team’s season.
“If we can build and peak at the right time, we still get a chance to play for the tournament championship,” Duncan said. “The winner of that is the one that gets to the NCAA tournament so there is so much to play for. In conference, we’re 6-4 and above .500 and we have opportunities to push that even further.
“If we can just focus on each of these matches one at a time, I think it’s going to give us a tremendous advantage,” Duncan said.
At many points season, it’s been tough for the Colonels. Now the team is trending in the right direction at the right time and is starting to make its name known against OVC opponents.
The overall record doesn’t say much, but the last four conference games and continuous progression speaks volumes about where this team is headed.