Volleyball defeats Western Michigan

Evan Hablitzel

Kent State volleyball (12-11, 5-5 Mid-American-Conference) came away with a tightly contested victory over the Western Michigan Broncos (8-14, 3-6 MAC) Friday night at the M.A.C. Center.

The Flashes needed all five sets (25-21, 23-25, 25-20, 26-28, 15-10) to finish off the Broncos. Coming off a five-set road loss to the University of Toledo last Saturday, it was Kent State’s third consecutive match to go the distance.

“I’d rather not go five,” said head coach Don Gromala, following the match. “If it happens, we’ve been there. We’re definitely comfortable in that position.”

After struggling in the serve game during last weekend’s road matches, Kent State racked up five service aces in Friday’s first set victory. The team totaled five service aces in their last two matches combined.

“We’re really comfortable with serving at home,” Gromala said. “They’ve (Western Michigan) been aced a decent amount this season. We knew we could turn it up and be a little more aggressive.”

The Flashes split the next two sets, before dropping a fourth set that saw 14 ties and seven lead changes. Finding themselves in a familiar position, Kent State put their team composure on full display by dominating the fifth set.

“I think it’s great we battled back,” said Gromala. “We were down a little bit in that (fourth) set and we had a little momentum going into the fifth, even though we lost the fourth. We’ve been in a lot of five-setters already this year. It’s good to come out on top.”

Tied at six in the match-deciding set, Kent State went on a 9-4 run to finish off the Broncos. Junior outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger put an exclamation point on her stellar performance with a kill for the match point.

Bittinger finished the night with team-leading totals of 18 kills and 30 digs.

“Really it came down to our game plan,” Bittinger said, following the match. “Some things weren’t going as planned, but we really grinded it out today.”

Kent state finished with 10 kills and an excellent .500 hitting percentage in the final set. Ten team digs and a crucial block by sophomore outside hitter Lexi Mantas and freshman middle blocker Annie Ennesser led the charge.

“We came out and executed great offensively,” Gromala said. “I think we just put some pressure on them with our serve. Our defense started to make some plays, so they started to make some mistakes attacking.”

The Flashes notched a season-high 94 digs, yet Gromala said he sees room for improvement on defense moving forward.

“I think we were just okay defensively,” Gromala said. “Our offense kept us in the game tonight – our serve kept us in the game tonight.”

Kent State faces a formidable Northern Illinois University (17-4, 9-0 MAC) team 6 p.m. Saturday at the M.A.C. Center.

“Northern (Illinois is) a tough team offensively,” Gromala said. “Our defense is going to have to be on point.”

Evan Hablitzel is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected].