Volleyball ends regular season with win over Bowling Green

Kent State University’s freshman outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger spikes the ball at Bowling Green University during their final game of regular season in the M.A.C. Center on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. The Flashes sent of their senior class with a 3-1 win over The Falcons and go into next weekends MAC Tournament as the No. 7 seed with a 16-13 overall record.

Jimmy Miller

Box Score

Just moments after defeating Bowling Green State University in four sets, junior blocker Bridget Wilhelm reflected on three seasons of playing with her five senior teammates in the M.A.C. Center for the final time.

“They were my influences when I came here,” Wilhelm said. “They were my first friends. It’s scary for me and it’s sad to see them go. It’s really powerful to see how much they’ve grown as people.”

Perhaps not the most storybook ending in the world, but the seniors—and the rest of the team—got the job done Saturday night after taking two early sets in the match. Coming off a five-set heartbreaker to Miami University, coach Don Gromala saw his team defeat the Falcons for the first time under his leadership.

“It’s not easy changing the culture of the program, and having character like each one of (the seniors) has,” Gromala said. “It wasn’t easy at times, but I think that they need to understand is how hard they work in practices is what made the team better.”

In a night honoring the seniors, the underclassmen displayed what Kent State volleyball may look like in the future.

Wilhelm paced the Kent State offense with a career-high 20 kills, while junior opposite Kelly Hutchison added 12 kills. Freshman outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger shored up the defense with 22 digs, while junior defensive specialist Sarah Mills and freshman libero Challen Geraghty, respectively, finished with 21 and 19 digs each.

Even still, the seniors definitely played their part. Middle blocker Liz Reikow and outside hitter Tinuke Aderemi-Ibitola combined for 15 kills in the effort, and defensive specialist Kaylee Koller finished her regular season with 11 digs.

“We were trying to get a quick offense going early,” Wilhelm said. “As soon as we can get the hitters spread and the middles up quick, they have trouble blocking, which we’ve seen on film.”

While Wilhelm and Hutchison led the offensive attack to victory, Gromala said senior Lauren Engleman played well at a pivotal moment in the match.

“Lauren came in and did a great job of scoring from the outside, which we were missing, and I think that was another big difference,” Gromala said. “Good production and good performance from a couple of our seniors, and that’s how it should be.”

Senior setter Jenny Buczek, who spent this season switching between starting and sitting behind freshman setter Brittney Jakscht, entered the match late into the fourth and final set, which the Flashes came back and won, 25-20.

The seniors might have played their final match in the M.A.C. Center, but they still have the most important portion of the season yet to play: the Mid-American Conference Tournament, in which they will be the seventh seed and take on sixth-seeded Eastern Michigan in the first round.

“Going into the (tournament) with a win like this is phenomenal,” Wilhelm said. “We know if we can play at this level, and if we can extend it into next week, there’ll be some good volleyball.”

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].