PDT Sports Contributor
ROSEMOUNT — After a 27-1 season that saw the Eastern Eagles go to the state semifinals and lose key players such as Rhyanna Day and Brittany Mounts to graduation, one would think that expectations might be tempered a little bit in Beaver.
However, Eastern showed no signs dropping off of the map Thursday as the Eagles defeated the Clay Panthers in straight sets by scores of 25-19, 28-26, and 25-12. Eastern coach Janet Day was particularly impressed with her front line as Bailey Helton, Casey Howard and Carson Roney set the tone for the match.
“I think because of our height and advantage in the front row, we usually block pretty well,” Day said. “We got caught in the net a couple of times because the girls were a little too close to the net, but the girls used good positioning and form to get the blocks.”
Helton was especially huge as she scored seven-straight points for Eastern and helped the Eagles come back from a 9-3 deficit to win going away in the first set. Day was quick to credit her as well as her teammates for the team’s success.
“With Cassidy Rowe at serving, Casey Howard on the outside and Jenny (Keppler) running all over the place to set the ball, and Carson, who played a really good game in the front row tonight,” Day said. “They all did really well and I think that overall, we played well and I think we passed really good.”
For the Panthers, coach Jill Tipton felt there were some good things to take from the match despite the loss in straight sets.
“We played well in the first two games through about 15 or 16 points, then we made some mistakes and that hurt us,” Tipton said. “We’re going to go back and work harder and we’re going to look at the tape and see what we need to improve upon and of course, (the mistakes) will be improved upon.”
Annie Hopkins played well for Clay, recording nine kills to lead the way for the Panthers. Her vocal leadership was evident all game as the senior made crucial spikes to keep Clay within striking distance in the first two sets.
“Annie and Katie Redding have both done a nice job leading (the team),” Tipton said. “They are both strong hitters and they look for their shots.”
Tipton noted that the second set was the backbreaking set for Clay, as the Panthers held a five-point lead with five points left in the match, but could not hold it as Eastern stormed back to take the second set 28-26.
“That was a tough loss,” Tipton said. “I think if we had pulled that second match out, I think that the momentum would have carried over into the third game and we would’ve played a lot better.”
For the Eagles, Day is excited about the start that Eastern has had to the season and is only looking ahead to the future.
“Coming down here and beating Clay was one of our goals,” Day said. “The girls have just got to stay focused on this season and get better as the season progresses.
“They are still getting used to each other and we lost a big core of our team last year. (However), these girls are going to come on really strong and do a lot of things this season.”
Tipton echoes Day’s sentiments and wants the Panthers to continue to work hard and get better throughout the course of the season.
“We need to work really hard in practice and just focus on winning on (our) SOC games until we meet Eastern again,” Tipton said.