Kent State volleyball dominates, sweeping Central Michigan in season opener

Jimmy Oswald Sports Reporter

After more than 434 days without a game, the Kent State volleyball team returned to the court in dominant fashion. 

The Flashes opened up their season by sweeping Central Michigan, the 2019 Mid-American Conference West Division champion, in back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday.

Kent State took six of seven sets, sweeping Thursday night’s game 3-0 and Friday’s 3-1. They won Thursday’s sets by four, eight and 10. Friday they came from seven points behind but lost the first set 26-24. They won the second by 10, then edged CMU 25-23 and 25-22.

The wins put the Flashes (2-0) in second place in the East Division behind Bowling Green (4-0). The Chippewas (1-3) sit in a three-team tie for third place in the West Division. 

“We’re most happy overall about how the girls performed, having (the first) weekend off, then coming out and playing really steady and focused and not getting caught up in the moment,” coach Don Gromala said. “We’re happy to see that we can hang with one of the best teams in the conference.”

Outside hitters Taylor Heberle and Savannah Matthews had dominating offensive performances. 

“I was super proud of the team effort — different people stepping up in different situations throughout the whole weekend,” Gromala said. “We couldn’t be prouder of how we started off the season.”

Heberle tied a career high in kills with 20 on Thursday and followed it up with 11 more on Friday. Her hitting percentage Thursday was .438.

“I don’t think Central was prepared for her, and they had to make some changes on her,” Gromala said. “Taylor’s worked hard over the past year to get to where she’s at.”

Heberle was delighted with the weekend.

“We have worked hard for this,” she said. “It really showed this weekend.” 

Matthews, who was second on the team in kills last season, had a career-high 22 on Friday. She had nine kills on Thursday. 

“She’s looking really solid and fluid and just really good on the ball like we haven’t seen in a while,” Gromala said. 

Heberle talked about her teammate with pride.

“They tried to change up the defense, but she just really kept going at it,” she said. “She did an awesome job on executing.”  

Junior setter Alex Haffner, an honorable mention all-MAC selection last season, had 38 assists on Thursday and 58 on Friday. She also contributed four serve aces on Friday and had 18 digs over the two games. 

“I think she’s just very disciplined,” Gromala said. “She trusts her ability, her volleyball IQ and her athleticism to make plays when we need to.”

Kent State next will go play Thursday and Friday at Buffalo, which is 0-4 and in last place in the East. 

“I think we just need to use the motivation from winning these first two games, focus in practice and just keep driving with this momentum,” Heberle said.

Jimmy is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected]