Volleyball preps for final regular-season road trip


Junior middle blocker Bridget Wilhelm hits the ball around the block during a game against Western Michigan on Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014. The Flashes won, 3-1.

Jimmy Miller

Last fall, freshman outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger led Strongsville High School to a 20-5 record, its first district title and a berth in the Elite Eight in the state tournament.

Just one year later, Bittinger is preparing to push for a Mid-American Conference

Tournament bid.

“That just happening in my last season, I’m seeing the same kind of atmosphere right now getting so close to the (MAC) tournament,” Bittinger said. “At this point in the season, everything’s important.”

Kent State (13-12, 5-7 MAC) sits seventh amongst competitors in the conference, just a few days removed from defeating Central Michigan University Chippewas in five sets. The top eight teams travel to Athens in two weeks for the tournament, and both Central Michigan and the University at Buffalo are tied for the

final seat.

“Anything can happen,” Kent State coach Don Gromala said. “If we can kind of play within ourselves and execute every part of the game, that’ll really be a big difference.”

The Flashes take the road for a rematch with Buffalo on Friday and then square off with their rival at the University of Akron on

Saturday night.

Kent State defeated both teams earlier this season in the M.A.C. Center; however, the Flashes play like an entirely different team on the road. While their 8-2 home record is one of the best in the conference, their 2-7 road record serves as a

telltale sign of this Jekyll and Hyde

home-away team.

“This week we really have to focus on executing and winning these two matches,” said junior defensive specialist Sarah Mills. “Buffalo and Akron have a couple big hitters, and we need to have our defense there, top-notch and ready to go.”

The Flashes might have swept the Bulls in their first meeting, but Buffalo played the previous match without junior outside hitter Tahleia Bishop, an offensive workhorse averaging 4.33 kills per set.

“She’s going to get majority of the sets, and she plays six rotations, so we know if the passes aren’t great, she’s probably going to get the ball in the back row,” Gromala said. “She’s a quality player who, in crunch time, can produce.”

The Zips enter the latter contest with a 2-10 conference record and will be coming fresh off a home date with Ohio University, a team still undefeated in conference play. Despite all of this, Kent State will be careful to write the match off as an automatic win.

“I think it’ll be really different,” Bittinger said. “Going to Akron, I’m not really quite sure what to expect. It’ll be really loud and exciting, so hopefully we can use their crowd to

our advantage.”

This weekend’s lineup will include freshman setter Brittney Jakscht, who has been in a heated competition with senior Jenny Buczek for the starting role. Bittinger is also expected to play as normal after a mouth injury last Thursday. While Bittinger played in the Saturday contest with the Chippewas, she could only play front row per staff orders.

“We can go back to the lineup that we started having some good rhythm and good momentum with the weekend before,” Gromala said.

After this weekend, the Flashes will play a home match with Miami University and another home contest with Bowling Green

State University.

“This weekend, we have one major goal and that’s to out-kill our opponents,” Mills said. “I think that we need to make sure our defense is there and making plays.”

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].