Kent State volleyball sweeps Buffalo to stay perfect

A week ago the Kent State women’s volleyball team swept its two-game series against Central Michigan University, the 2019 Mid-American Conference West champion.

This weekend the Flashes swept their opponents again. This time it was winless University at Buffalo, a team coaches picked to finish last in the East Division.

“Our team played down to Buffalo’s level a little bit,” sophomore outside hitter Savannah Matthews said. “But with our scrappiness and drive, we were able to bring it back to where we needed to be.” 

On Thursday Kent State beat the Bulls 3-0, winning 25-15, 25-17, and 25-18. Friday the Flashes won 25-14, 25-19, and 25-17.

The Flashes have won 12 of 13 sets to begin the season. The back-to-back victories puts the Flashes (4-0) in second place behind Bowling Green (6-0). Buffalo (0-6) remains in last place in the East. 

“We had some different challenges we faced with Buffalo, and our team took that to heart,” coach Don Gromala said. “We did a good job executing what we needed to do to be in control of most of the sets.”

Matthews was all over the court aggressively, attacking the ball. 

“Savannah [Matthews] was being consistent in being aware of the opportunities the defense was giving her,” Gromala said. “She was making good choices on when to be aggressive and when to be smart.”

Matthews led the team in kills, recording 16 on Thursday and 11 more on Friday. Her hitting percentage was .520 in Thursday’s game.

Last week Matthews had a career-high 22 kills in a single game against Central Michigan. 

Junior middle blocker Lana Strejcek said Matthews leads the team’s offense.

“[Matthews] brings our team together and builds momentum for us,” Strejcek said. 

Strejcek, a transfer from Charlotte, recorded three blocks on Thursday and six on Friday. She also had nine kills over the two days.

Matthews said that her blockers sparked the Flashes’ defense.  

“Our block was so present that they had to go around and find different ways to score,” Matthews said. “But our backcourt picked it up pretty easy.” 

KSU’s defense had 23 blocks during the series, something Gromala said his team had been working on. 

Sophomore outside hitter Taylor Heberle continued her strong performance from last week. 

“Especially since this is her first year seeing a lot of court, she’s doing a great job stepping in and making a huge impact,” Matthews said. “It’s only going to go up for her from here.” 

Heberle had seven kills Thursday and 11 on Friday with a .526 hitting percentage on Friday. Last week she had 31 kills against Central.

Heberle also six service aces, with four coming on Friday. 

Gromala had emphasized serving for his team’s preparation for Buffalo.  

“The biggest thing that we wanted to focus on this weekend was first contact,” he said. “We knew if we put the ball in the right places with the right amount of accuracy and pace, it would cause problems for them. We definitely did that.

“We’re looking for enough points off our serve to where it makes them uncomfortable. It makes our offense in transition and counterattack a little easier.” 

Senior defensive specialist Kaeleigh Stang also recorded three service aces on Thursday. She also had 10 digs.

Junior setter Alex Haffner had 33 assists on Thursday and 29 on Friday. She had been leading the country in assists per set at 14.2 going into this week’s games. Haffner also contributed 14 digs. 

“Alex did a really good job of distributing the ball at the right location and the right tempo — just letting players have different ways to score,” Gromala said.

Matthews has high hopes for the future of the team.

“We could potentially win a MAC championship,” she said. “We have a lot of power, a lot of young talent coming in, and this program is just going to keep growing.”

Kent State will return to Kent Thursday for its home opener against Akron, who is 1-4 and fifth in the East. 

Additional Notes

  • Outside hitter Melissa Kolurbasi recorded 12 kills over the two games. 

  • Libero Erin Gardner had 18 digs. She ranked 18th in the country in digs last season.

  • Freshman defensive specialist Bryn Roberts had five digs on Thursday and five digs on Friday while playing in every set. 

  • Middle blocker Danie Tyson recorded two blocks and three block assists during the games. 

Jimmy Oswald is a sports writer. Contact him at [email protected]