Volleyball prepares to close out regular season in M.A.C. Center


Kent State’s volleyball team cheers each other on during the game against MAC opponent Ohio University on Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014. The Flashes lost the game, 3-1.

Jimmy Miller

Three days before her final match in the M.A.C. Center, senior defensive specialist Kaylee Koller strongly considered her fondest memories as a Kent State volleyball player. After a moment of thought, she ultimately couldn’t narrow them down to one.

“Honestly when I think back to my career here, I’m most thankful for the girls I got to play with,” Koller said. “(Volleyball) has just made us better people and I’m able to come out of this experience with lifelong friends.”

Koller’s career won’t end this weekend on her home court against Miami University and Bowling Green State University, as the team qualified for competition in the Mid-American Conference Tournament next weekend in Athens.

“We’ve got three (wins) in a row, and so we want to keep that confidence-building momentum rolling into the following weekend,” Kent State coach Don Gromala said. “We’re playing two good teams, and that’s what we’re going to see in the MAC tournament.”

The weekend will serve as one more tune-up session for Kent State (15-12, 7-7 MAC) before the conference tournament but might also affect seeding for the weekend in Athens.

“We’re playing against two good opponents who are playing really good volleyball right now,” Gromala said. “Miami’s got a huge win streak going on, and Bowling Green’s played all their opponents really tough.”

The Flashes dropped a match with each of the two teams earlier this season, concluding a weekend trip to both schools without taking home a single set victory. Lackluster blocking and a poor duo of offensive performances resulted in the losses.

“Execution was one of (the issues),” senior middle blocker Liz Reikow said. “This time we’ve got a home court advantage.”

Gromala said the team’s outside hitters have stepped up to lead a revitalized offensive attack since their previous matchups. Senior outside hitter Tinuke Aderemi-Ibitola enters the final weekend of the regular season with 274 kills, a team-high, while freshman outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger averages 2.54 kills per set.

The defense warmed up since the prior bouts with the Redhawks and Falcons, particularly with physicality at the net. A week after Reikow earned top MAC East defensive honors and junior middle blocker Bridget Wilhelm finished with top MAC East offensive honors, the middles struggled on their weekend trip to Bowling Green and Miami. The Flashes finished with only 15 blocks during the two matches, while the team typically finishes with nine per match.

In last weekend’s wins over the University at Buffalo and rival University of Akron, Reikow and Wilhelm accumulated 18 blocks.

“The biggest difference is we’re not letting teams score as much defensively,” Gromala said. “Our blocks are back and our back row has gotten better with controlling some digs.”

Freshman libero Challen Geraghty is coming off a record-setting weekend, as she set the Kent State record for most digs in a freshman season with 462. Junior defensive specialist Sarah Mills trails Geraghty with 249 digs, and Bittinger and Koller both average more than two digs per set.

“We’ve grown a lot as a program,” Reikow said. “It’s really exciting just to finish our last regular season game in the M.A.C.”

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].