Volleyball’s offense comes alive in pivotal road match

Jimmy Miller

Box Score

The Kent State volleyball team has seen a player offensively dominate already this season, such as when senior outside hitter Tinuke Aderemi-Ibitola registered 24 kills in a home loss to Northern Illinois University.

On Friday night, freshman outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger erupted for 25 kills during a road contest with the University at Buffalo. The career night came in a match with tremendous Mid-American Conference tournament implications, and while Aderemi-Ibitola’s dominance wasn’t enough for a win, Bittinger led the team to a five-set victory over the Bulls.

“The night when Tinuke was scoring, she was hitting high and being physical,” Kent State coach Don Gromala said. “Kelsey just does a really nice job just moving around her shots. She was hitting lines, hitting seams…it was a really good performance for her.”

A strong cast supported Bittinger along the way, as Aderemi-Ibitola added 14 kills and senior middle blocker Liz Reikow finished with 12.

“We’re excited about the win,” Gromala said. “We played some pretty good volleyball. We did a good job of executing and just kind of staying in the match. Our outsides played tough like they knew they had to.”

Kent State (14-12, 6-7 MAC) won its first and third set, while the Bulls notched the second and fourth set. Bittinger earned the night’s spotlight and delivered a kill to pull ahead in a set that was deadlocked at 15 apiece. A Buffalo attack error ended the match and helped the Flashes edge out a road win.

“I think we played like we were at home,” Gromala said. “I think it’s a great quality to have, and it’s going to be important tomorrow (against Akron).”

While Kent State’s offensive prowess helped edge Buffalo in the fifth set, its defense pulled through during the match, out-digging the opponent, 94-85. Freshman libero Challen Geraghty led the defense with a career-high 31 digs in a single match. Senior defensive specialist Kaylee Koller and junior defensive specialist Sarah Mills tacked on 14 of their own and Bittinger added 13 to the mix as well.

Gromala was hesitant to say the match secures a MAC Tournament bid, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. As of Friday’s contest, Kent State stood at seventh in the conference, while Buffalo and Central Michigan University were tied at eighth. The top eight teams advance to the contest in two weeks, and the Flashes have now defeated both the Chippewas and the Bulls.

“There’s still too many teams within two matches and there’s three (regular season matches) to go,” Gromala said. “We’re not really concerned about that. We’ve got to take care of tomorrow.”

Kent State squares off with rival Akron on Saturday night on the road. The Flashes defeated the Zips in four sets earlier this season.

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].