Geraghty, Kent State begin season with 2-1 mark

Nick Buzzelli

Entering Friday afternoon’s season-opening match against Stetson University, junior Challen Geraghty sat at sixth place in career digs in Kent State volleyball program history.

But after racking up a total of 69 digs in the first two days of the 2016 campaign, the defensive specialist/libero passed two former Flashes in that category.

Geraghty anchored Kent State’s defense during its three matches in the Holiday Inn Orlando East/UCF Invitational at the University of Central Florida, limiting Stetson, UCF and Stony Brook University’s hitting percentage en route to a 2-1 start to the season.

“It was great. A pretty up-and-down day, but there were a lot of positive takeaways from our performances,” head coach Don Gromala said Friday after splitting a pair of matches. “Overall, I thought we got better throughout the day. Our defense was pretty steady.”

In the first match, the Flashes fell behind the Hatters early on. But after a service error by Stetson’s Marissa Salazar put Kent State ahead, 13-12, they continued on a 12-5 run to end the opening set.

Despite the fact that the Hatters took the second set, the Flashes easily won the third and fourth to take the match.

The nightcap against Central Florida, however, was a different story. The Black Knights, who were picked fourth in the American Athletic Conference’s preseason coaches’ poll, began the contest by winning the first two sets by a combined score of 50-34.

Kent State bounced back in the third match and took the set, 25-23, courtesy of consecutive kills by juniors Kelsey Bittinger and Heather Younkin, who were both named to the all-tournament team.

But much like it did in the opening frame, UCF pulled away in the fourth and used back-to-back service aces by Miranda Watkins to win the match.

On Saturday, though, the Flashes won the first set against Stony Brook and dropped the second. They were able to pull through in the third, though, scoring the final four points before winning in the fourth.

“It’s great to get the win, but I don’t know if we’re ecstatic with how we played,” Gromala said. “In set two, they picked up their level of play and made some smart decisions at the net. After that, it was a dogfight and it was great to see these ladies find a way to come out on top.”

Bittinger led Kent State’s offense with 14 kills against the Seawolves, while senior Katarina Kojic added 21 assists from the setter position. Geraghty totaled 24 digs to place her seven points behind former Flash Hannah Herc for third on the all-time list.

Kent State opens its home schedule at the M.A.C. Center this weekend by hosting Wright State University, Eastern Michigan University, Boise State University, University of Tennessee and Robert Morris University in the Golden Flashes Classic.

They will travel to Evansville, Indiana, to compete in the Dunn Hospitality Tournament against the University of Dayton, Austin Peay State University and the University of Evansville.