MURRAY -- Murray State kept pace in the Ohio Valley Conference race on Saturday night, coming away with a sizeable 3-0 (25-16, 25-23, 25-15) sweep of Eastern Illinois at Racer Arena.
Now just one game back of co-conference leaders Southeast Missouri State and Morehead State, the Racers (14-9, 9-3 OVC) were uncanny on the offensive side of the net against the Panthers (2-22, 1-11) - hitting .349 with 51 team kills.
Leading the way? MSU's senior outside hitter Rachel Giustino, who finished with 20 kills on a .514 kill percentage and notched the double-double with 11 digs.
The Algonquin, Illinois, native came into the match fresh off Friday's record-setting performance, when her 28 kills not only helped MSU survive a four-set grinder against SIU Edwardsville, but also put her at 1,606 career kills. Her 1, 599th kill surpassed former teammate and MSU all-timer Scottie Ingram, who posted what was a school-record 1,598 from 2013-16 before having her number retired at the end of her career.
Now with each point, Giustino just puts the record further and further out of reach.
"It's just a cool thing, and I think every athlete would say they'd like to have their number retired," she said. "That's awesome. But I'd much rather get another one of those banners."
Giustino was pointing to a championship banner as she said that, and the goal is still within reach. The Racers are defending champions, and just like the 2018 season, might have to win it away from the home crowd with the way the Redhawks, the Eagles and Jacksonville State Gamecocks have been playing in conference this season.
But MSU's longtime skipper Dave Schwepker thinks his team is ready to bounce forward after tough losses to SEMO, Eastern Kentucky and JSU. And with four matches left - including one each against SEMO and Morehead State - there's still time to make up ground.
"Of course we want to win everything," he said. "There is no doubt. But I think Friday night's match…a lot of adversity had happened. Injuries. Rachel Holthaus was out with a migraine. Another middle hitter was out. So we threw everybody everywhere.
"The first and second set, we were OK with. That third set, everyone was out and we were all crazy. And then in that fourth set, it was just a huge team rally. Like we haven't done all season. That was where we put our team in front of ourselves for the first time this year. We were really 'all about the team, forget about ourselves.' And it was a really good thing, and a turning point for this team."
Coming into Saturday, Giustino was fourth in the country in kills per game (5.16), and delivered her part of the offense.
But she wasn't alone.
Fellow senior outside hitter Rachel Holthaus had 11 kills and .667 hitting, while Megan Lindsay had nine kills at .375. Setter Callie Anderton finished with 43 assists, while libero Becca Fernandez added 17 digs, two assists and one kill.
"Either way - whether we host or not - we are looking forward to winning the tournament," Giustino added.
"Winning the regular season is awesome, but it's not what gets us to the NCAA Tournament. And we know we can go on the road and we've done it before. We're using the regular season to get better. Learn more about ourselves as a team, so that when we get into that tournament, we'll be ready to win three games in a row."
MURRAY STATE 3, EASTERN ILLINOIS 0 (25-16, 25-23, 25-15)
Kills 26 51
Errors 13 13
TA 89 109
Hitting % .146 .349
Points 34 58
Assists 25 48
Aces 2 6
Blocks 6 1
Kills: EIU Katie Sommer 8, Maggie Runge 5, Kylie Michael 4, Hannah Sieg 4, Laurel Bailey 3, Bailey Chandler 1, Morgan Matusik 1. MSU Rachel Giustino 20, Rachel Holthaus 11, Megan Lindsay 9, Rachel Kinney 4, Emily Matson 4, Callie Anderton 2, Becca Fernandez 1.
EIU 2-22 (1-11); MSU 15-9 (9-3)