Flashes volleyball clinches MAC tournament spot against rival Akron


Kent State’s senior middle blocker Bridget Wilhelm spikes the ball during the game against MAC opponents Ohio University in the M.A.C. Center on Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014. 

Jimmy Miller

The Kent State volleyball team’s home win over the University of Akron earlier this season clinched a point in the Wagon Wheel Challenge, but its road win over the Zips on Saturday night secured a spot in the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

“This is a testament to the kind of resolve the team has,” Kent State coach Don Gromala said. “It’s been an up-and-down year, but we’re playing some pretty good volleyball right now.”

The Flashes finished with two wins over the weekend, defeating the University at Buffalo on Friday in a five-set thriller and Akron in four sets the next evening. Gromala said Kent State (15-12, 7-7 MAC) brought physicality to the match Saturday, resulting in its third consecutive victory.

“We knew going in we kind of had an advantage physically at the net,” Gromala said. “We did a good job taking care of business with that.”

The Flashes took the first set, but Akron stormed back in the second set thanks to a strong service game and key offensive adjustments. The Flashes recovered, however, and notched a pair of 25-18 set victories in the third and fourth.

“We knew they were going to serve tough all along, but we were able to respond well,” Gromala said. “We knew they couldn’t really maintain that level of play for that long.”

Senior outside hitter Tinuke Aderemi-Ibitola spearheaded the offense, finishing with 16 kills. Junior middle blocker Bridget Wilhelm added 13 of her own, and freshman outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger contributed 11.

Two record-setting performances in the James A. Rhodes Arena proved to be important, as senior middle blocker Liz Reikow finished with five blocks and freshman libero Challen Geraghty registered 14 digs. Reikow, who has 125 blocks this season, now owns the senior block record, while Geraghty’s 462 digs this season broke the freshman digs record. 

The Flashes will wrap up their regular season next weekend at the M.A.C. Center, squaring off with Miami University and Bowling Green State University. Gromala said the pair of upcoming opponents are two of the better teams in the conference, and his team will focus on them before they look to the MAC Tournament the next weekend.

“We’ve always kind of tried to take it one match at a time,” Gromala said. “We put a lot more effort toward the upcoming match. None of that is going to change.”

Ohio University will host the MAC tournament in Athens on Nov. 21-24, where the top eight teams in the conference will battle for the championship.

“The tournament is a totally different environment,” Gromala said. “(Bowling Green) is a team we could see the next weekend. Obviously, we want to win, but we want to be playing good volleyball going into that performance down in Athens the following weekend.”

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].