Volleyball sweeps Buffalo in MAC opener

c020374e-59ea-4685-9a83-1550f1aceff3.jpg

Evan Hablitzel

Kent State Volleyball (8-6, 1-0) trailed 25-24 during the first set of their Mid-American Conference opening match Friday against the struggling University at Buffalo Bulls (1-13, 0-1).

It appeared to be the prototypical trap game.

Then, back-to-back kills by junior outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger, and a Buffalo attack error, earned Kent State a 27-25 first set victory. The Flashes never looked back en route to a 3-0 sweep and their first MAC victory, as well as their fourth win in a row.

Despite Buffalo’s poor record in non-conference play, head coach Don Gromala didn’t take the Bulls lightly.

“We don’t look at records. We know they’re a physical team at the net and that’s kind of what they did to us in that first set,” said Gromala following the match. “We’re not thinking about that school down the road until tomorrow… We’re just focused on what we did well today.”

Kent State was blocked five times at the net during the first set and committed 13 attack errors, resulting in a lowly .129 hitting percentage. Yet the Flashes were able to hold Buffalo to a .075 hitting percentage and overcome their early struggles.

The Bulls tied the second set at six, before a 19-9 Kent State run halted any hope of tying the match. Unlike the first set, the Flashes committed only four attack errors and tallied a .371 hitting percentage.

Senior setter Katarina Kojic took control with 14 of her 45 assists coming during the second set. She added two service aces and two kills during the set, as well.

“Kojic was really smart in her decisions on when to be offensive and that opened up our offense. That’s why we had so many assists. I think a lot of it was our backcourt today. We controlled first contact and were in system a lot,” said Gromala. “That gave (Kojic) the ability to move some things around and give our hitters some openings to be successful.”

Their 25-15 second set victory gave the Flashes a 2-0 advantage and a chance to sweep their MAC Conference opener. The opportunity was not wasted. Kent State ended the match with a 25-20 victory in the third set

The final set saw junior opposite hitter Heather Younkin dominate from the right side and cap off an already impressive performance. She ended the night with a team leading 16 kills and .517 hitting percentage.

“She did a great job of stepping up and she didn’t force the game too much. We’ve talked a lot about that with her,” said Gromala. “She’s had a lot of matches where she’s started out strong and then kind of dropped off.”

Younkin’s 5.33 kills per set Friday night was well beyond her season average of 2.42. The junior attacker believes players stepping up on a nightly basis will be crucial during conference play.

“One thing we struggle with as a team is inconsistency,” said Younkin. “I feel like if each one of us can step up to the plate each game that’s really going to make a big difference on how we finish in conference play.”

When asked if she was ready for Saturday’s 6 p.m. match against Akron at the M.A.C. Center, Younkin didn’t mince words.

“Oh yeah, that school down the road.”

Contact Evan Hablitzel at [email protected]