Flashes volleyball loses to New Mexico, bounces back against Omaha in Cyclone Invitational

Scott Lendak

The Kent State volleyball team traveled to Ames, Iowa, on Friday with hopes of starting the season with a victory against the Iowa State Cyclones.

The Flashes stumbled in their first set and never recovered, eventually falling 3-0 (19-25, 23-25, 18-25) to the Cyclones.

“I think we battled tonight, but it wasn’t enough,” Coach Don Gromala said. “We weren’t able to sustain a high level of play for long stretches.”

The Cyclones featured four All-Big 12 players in their front row, but the Flashes were able to hold them to a .182 hitting percentage.

Kent State was unable to capitalize as the Cyclones held them to a .080 hitting percentage.

Senior Challen Geraghty led the way for the Flashes with 16 digs to extend her streak of 60 consecutive matches with double-digit figures.

Sophomore Myla King led the team with five blocks.

Despite losing the first two sets, Gromala was pleased with the team’s effort.

“I’m really proud of how we responded after that first set,” Gromala said. “We were able to hold off multiple runs during the second set, but just didn’t find a way to side out late during those crucial moments.”

In the final set, the Flashes were down 18-20 before the Cyclones went on a 5-0 run to end the match.

Despite the loss, the Flashes showed defensive strength when they held Iowa State All-American Jess Schaben to just five kills with six errors on 25 swings.

The Flashes had some individual standouts, who are moving up in the record books. Senior Kelsey Bittinger recorded 10 kills in the loss, moving her to ninth place on Kent State’s top career kills list. Senior Brittney Jakscht also put her name in the record books, as she chipped in 22 assists, which moved her into tenth on Kent State’s top career assists list.

“Our game plan going in was to key on their outsides because we knew they were both returning and are players who can terminate the ball, whether it’s a good pass or bad pass,” Gromala noted. “We just didn’t make enough adjustments to slow down their middles and rest side, who are big, physical kids.”

On Saturday, during the first match against New Mexico, the Flashes fell to the   Lobos, 3-0 (23-25, 18-25, 22-25) in a match that had 26 ties and 10 lead changes.

Senior Heather Younkin and Bittinger combined for a .339 hitting percentage with 26 kills.

Though Kent State’s offense improved from Friday, their defense wasn’t up to par. The Flashes allowed the Lobos to hit .284 and have 48 kills.

Following a 20-20 tie in the first set, the Lobos had four straight kills and didn’t look back.

After New Mexico dominated the second set, the Flashes fought back in the third, which featured 10 ties. Kent State took an 18-14 lead before New Mexico went on an 11-4 run to close out the Flashes.

Geraghty led the floor defense with a match-high 18 digs. Freshman Natalie Tagala paced the offense with 18 assists.

During the second match, Kent State swept Omaha 3-0 (25-18, 25-23, 25-21) for its first win of the year.

The first set proved to be the Flashes’ best offensive set of the season. They finished with 16 kills and four errors on 37 attempts with a .324 hitting percentage.

Bittinger had a match-high 18 kills with a .429 hitting percentage. She added 10 digs for her first double-double of the year.

Younkin recorded 11 kills for the first time this year, while sophomore Ashley Makruski added a career-high eight kills.

Tagala received her first career double-double with 35 assists and 10 digs. She also led all players with three aces.

Geraghty had a season-high with 30 digs.

Next weekend, the Flashes (1-2) will be on the road competing in the Cardinal Classic in Louisville, Kentucky against Illinois, Western Kentucky and Louisville.

Scott Lendak is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected].