MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin volleyball team got off to a good start this evening against Ohio Valley Conference rival Eastern Illinois but fell victim to a Panther comeback as the Skyhawks dropped a 3-1 decision (25-20, 13-25, 21-25, 20-25).
It was Senior Night at Skyhawk Fieldhouse as UT Martin’s Jemima Idemudia, Kelly Lean, Rachel Noffsinger and Macy Reigelsperger were each honored for their career contributions in a pregame ceremony.
Idemudia and Reigelsperger each dialed up a match-high 13 kills apiece, as Idemudia hit .440 to go along with a team-best six blocks. Lean racked up her fifth double-double of the season with 22 assists and 11 digs while Brooke Gyori secured a match-high 19 digs for the Skyhawks (11-17, 5-10 OVC).
UT Martin established the early advantage after a solid first set. Back-to-back kills from Hannah Phillips and Justine Walker made the score 6-4 in favor of the Skyhawks. Kills by Reigelsperger, Phillips and Idemudia on three consecutive possessions extended UT Martin’s lead out to 15-10. Moments later, Idemudia slammed down a putaway that gave the Skyhawks a double-digit advantage at 22-12. The Panthers (14-13, 8-7 OVC) would creep back within three points (23-20) before a Walker kill and an Eastern Illinois attack error concluded the set.
Idemudia and Phillips combined for seven kills without an error while Gyori posted seven digs in the opening stanza for UT Martin.
The Skyhawks accounted for three of the first four points in the second set, receiving kills by Megan Fair and Reigelsperger while Phillips and Noffsinger joined forces for an assisted block. However, the Panthers would soon score seven unanswered points until another Reigelsperger rally killer temporarily stunted Eastern Illinois’ momentum. The Panthers recovered to take their first double-digit advantage at 17-7 while leading by as many as a dozen points on their way to evening the match at 1-all.
In the second set, Reigelsperger and Idemudia each had three kills while Kenzie Hinshaw scooped up six digs for UT Martin.
The third stanza was tight, as seven tie scores took place before Eastern Illinois eked out the win. Once again, the Skyhawks generated three of the first four points but a 6-0 Panther run soon thereafter helped Eastern Illinois go ahead by an 11-7 margin. UT Martin followed with four unanswered points of its own to tie the set at 11-all but the Panthers soon created some separation, leading 19-15. Three straight Skyhawk points came via Reigelsperger kills at one point but ultimately it wasn’t enough as UT Martin couldn’t get any closer than two points for the rest of the set.
Reigelsperger had five of the Skyhawks’ 12 kills in the third set while also accumulating a team-high four digs.
The Panthers tallied the first three points of the final set but UT Martin came charging back as kills by Noffsinger, Phillips and Jamie Rys made the score 4-3. Eastern Illinois then scored six of the next seven points, going ahead by a 14-8 margin midway through the stanza. A block assist from Rys and Noffsinger willed the Skyhawks back within four points but the Panthers would later go on top by a 17-10 margin. UT Martin had one last comeback in them, as back-to-back Reigelsperger and Rys kills made the score 23-20 but Eastern Illinois was able to claim the final two points of the match.
The senior trio of Noffsinger, Reigelsperger and Idemudia posted three kills apiece to guide the Skyhawks in the final set.
Despite the setback, UT Martin is still alive for a spot in next week’s OVC Tournament. The Skyhawks are tied with Southeast Missouri and Morehead State for the eighth and final spot in the tournament field going into tomorrow’s regular season finales. UT Martin will host SIUE at 6:30 p.m. while Southeast Missouri takes on Eastern Illinois and Morehead State hosts regular season champion Austin Peay. In the event of a tie in the final standings, the Skyhawks would lock up the No. 8 seed based off the number of sets won against Southeast Missouri (five to four) and their 3-1 head-to-head victory over Morehead State on Oct. 21.