Volleyball completes sweep of Akron to start season 6-0

Jimmy Oswald Sports Reporter

Savannah Matthews was serving on the play that would decide the Kent State volleyball team’s series with the University of Akron. The score was 26-25 KSU.

The Zips came back with a smash over the net that went off a Kent State blocker’s fingertips. It was headed out of bounds. If it landed, the point would go to the Zips.

From the center of the court, Matthews raced 15 feet to the ball, dove and reached the ball with her right fist as she was falling to the ground. The ball sailed back to Akron’s side of the net. The Zips tried spiking it once more, but KSU’s Danie Tyson and Alex Haffner blocked it. 

Point, set and match, and the Flashes went to 6-0 on the season.

The team swarmed Matthews, tackling her to the ground. 

“She was on fire in those last five or six points,” coach Don Gromala said.“She was involved in every single one of them. Whether it was with her block, attack, serve, or making that dig.” 

The sophomore outside hitter had 12 kills on Thursday and 11 on Friday. She also had three aces and 17 digs. 

Sophomore Morgan Copley, who plays on the outside opposite Matthews, called her teammate “absolutely amazing.”

 “She’s such a strong player, and her presence on the court is huge,” Copley said.

The Flashes beat Akron 3-1 on both Thursday and Friday. For the first time in program history, the Flashes have won their first six games. They are in second place in the Mid-American Conference behind Bowling Green State Univerity (8-0). Akron is 2-6.

Almost every set was close through the two days. On Thursday, KSU won the first set by two points, lost the second by three, and won the third by four. The Flashes won the last one by 10 points. 

On Friday, Akron won the first set by six points. KSU won the next three 25-23, 25-21, and 27-25. The Flashes had trailed 21-14 in the second set and 21-16 in the fourth. 

Gromala called this game “one of the most amazing” that he’s ever been a part of. 

“We showed that we were just a little tougher today,” he said. “We overcame a bit of adversity, being down in those two sets and coming back to win.” 

Copley, playing in her first two games of the season after an injury, said the team fought all weekend.

“We scrapped really hard,” Copley said. “The amount of growth we’ve undergone since last season, especially with a young team. We’ve just improved so much.” 

Last year’s team finished 14-15. This year’s team has only two seniors. 

Copley was one of five players to post double-digit kills on Thursday with 11. She led the team with 15 on Friday. 

“I went in and did what I’ve always done, just not overthinking or letting the pressure get to me” Copley said. “I put trust in my training.” 

Gromala said Copley “allows us to do different things with our offense and defense.”

“She’s flexible,” he said. “We had her matched up with one of Akron’s stronger outside hitters, and she got some really big touches. She did everything to get us back into those last sets.” 

Junior middle blocker Lana Strejcek had 13 kills on Thursday and 11 on Friday. She also had nine blocks over the two days. 

Gromala praised Strejcek’s decision making. 

“She’s really smart at managing the ball,” he said. “Her and Alex Haffner have a really good rhythm out there.” 

Copley had similar praise for Strejcek.

“She has a huge block presence,” she said. “Even her hitting ability for a middle blocker is outstanding. I always have faith in her. She’s made a huge impact on our team.” 

Junior libero Erin Gardner moved up to sixth in all-time digs in KSU history with 1,268. She had 19 on Thursday and 21 on Friday. 

“She’s a hard worker,” Gromala said. “She keeps bringing attitude and production value, and her attitude is a big part of what our team is right now. ” 

Haffner, a junior who has won back-to-back Mid-American Conference setter of the week honors, continued her outstanding performance with 54 assists on Thursday and 48 on Friday. She also had led the team in aces with three and had 27 digs. 

“She runs a great tempo with our offense,” Copley said. “She’s really contributed to our success and turned our team around.” 

Copley said the team was on a roll. 

“Everyone’s worked super hard, and it’s paying off now,” she said. “We just have to keep going.” 

Kent State plays Eastern Michigan Monday. The Eagles are 1-3 and in last place in the West. The game makes up one postponed at the start of the season because of COVID-19 issues at EMU. 

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