Volleyball loses double-header against BGSU in battle for first

The battle for first place in Mid-American Conference between Bowling Green State University and Kent State lived up to the hype.

But for the Kent State volleyball team, the double-header ended in heartbreak. 

KSU lost to Bowling Green (11-0) in back-to-back five-set games. The Flashes remain in second place in the Mid-American Conference at 8-3.

“It was a really tough game to lose,” sophomore outside hitter Taylor Heberle said. “We battled all the way through the end, and we put a lot of heart out on that court. And that one hurt.”

Coach Don Gromala called the series “two of the biggest games we’ve played as a program in a long time.”

“We didn’t get the wins, but we still battled with the best team in the MAC,” he said. “I think that shows a lot about where we’re at right now.”

The Flashes lost the first two sets on Thursday, and it was never close (25-16 and 25-19).

But they came back to win the next two sets by two points each. In the fifth set, they trailed 10-5 and closed the score to 14-13 before losing the final point.

On Friday KSU would lose the first set by seven points before winning the next two both by two points. Bowling Green would win the final two 25-15 and 15-12 to win the series. 

Gromala credited the comeback on Thursday with matchup changes.

“We made some changes to give us some better defensive matchups against them,” Gromala said. 

Heberle attributed the comeback to “people coming onto the court and stepping up.”

“That’s what kind of helped us get our momentum back,” she said. “We slowed it down. That’s what spurred us to stop their play and get the next one.” 

On Friday, the Flashes dropped the first set and won the next two, both by 25-23 scores. Bowling Green won the fourth set, and for the second day in a row, the game came down to a fifth set. 

“We had a little switch in our lineup there to try to give us some different opportunities,” Gromala said. “Melissa (Kolurbasi) came in and did a great job with what she was supposed to do.”

After only playing in one set on Thursday, Kolurbasi, a junior, led the team in kills Friday with a career-high 20.

Heberle said Kolurbasi “got us those clutch points we needed.”

“She’s an amazing attacker and it really helped us this week,” Heberle said. “She was always going up and being aggressive.”

Gromala said Kolurbasi attacked every opening she saw. 

“She found those holes in the defense,” Gromala said. “She was really smart about not forcing any swings that weren’t there, and that caused problems for Bowling Green.” 

Kent State had to play the deciding set without junior libero Erin Gardner. She left near the end of the fourth set on Friday after an injury to her knee. To that point, she had played every set of the season. 

Freshman Bryn Roberts replaced her in the last set, when the Flashes fell behind 5-1. They battled back to 13-12 before Bowling Green scored the last two points.

Gromala said they would monitor Gardner’s injury this week.

“She played a great match defensively up until that point,” he said. “And we were bummed to not have her for that fifth set. But she’s a tough kid, so she’ll be just fine.”

Gardner led the team in digs with 21 on Thursday and 22 on Friday. 

Sophomore Savannah Matthews led the team in kills, tying a career-high with 22 on Thursday. She also had 18 digs. 

Sophomore outside hitter Taylor Heberle had 27 kills over the two games along with three aces. Sophomore opposite hitter Morgan Copley had 23 kills. 

Several freshmen made impacts in the series. While sharing the setter position with junior Alex Haffner, Amelia Perdue had 22 assists. She also had 32 digs over the two games. 

Gromala said Perdue performed well after being “thrown into the fire.”

“It was tough for her to be put into a 6-2 setup as a freshman,” Gromala said. “She did a great job with that along with stepping up for us defensively.” 

The 6-2 lineup was a variation from KSU’s normal defense. Gromala used it Thursday after the team lost the first two sets.

Freshman outside hitter Maluhia Ma’a had 25 digs over the two days. Roberts, who has played at least two sets in eight of KSU’s 11 games, had 17 digs on Friday.

Gromala said the freshman “add a lot of value to our backcourt.”

“They’re a really steady group,” he said. “They know the game and they’re not afraid. People can’t even tell they’re freshmen with how well they perform. We’re going to need some more out of them, and they’re ready for it.” 

The Kent State will play the University of Miami, who is 5-5 and fourth in the East Division, on Thursday and Friday. Miami had been the preseason pick to win the East.

Gromala said his team would rest up before the series. 

“It’s been a crazy two weeks with schedule changes and random off days,” he said. “With us finally having a normal week of preparation, it’ll be a good time to rest and recharge.”

Kent State and BGSU won’t meet again until the MAC Tournament, a four-team event April 2-3 on the home court of the regular-season champion.

“We’ll get them next time,” Heberle said. 

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