Volleyball begins pivotal home stand

Jimmy Miller

Just weeks removed from its first Mid-American Conference match, the Kent State volleyball team is looking at a stretch of its eight final matches, six of which are at home.

“We’re happy to be home after being on the road,” Kent State coach Don Gromala said. “In this run of home matches, we’re playing some of the top teams in the conference. We’re focused on playing disciplined and clean volleyball.”

Kent State (11-10, 3-5 MAC) squares off with Northern Illinois University (15-7, 8-0 MAC) on Friday and Western Michigan University (15-8, 7-3 MAC) on Saturday. Last year, the two teams trounced the Flashes, each tallying a sweep over Kent State, and visit the M.A.C. Center as road favorites.

“They’re both two of the better offenses in the conferences,” Gromala said. “They cause some problems defensively when you scout and you don’t know who to key on.”

The Flashes are coming off a roller coaster weekend, showing early signs of command in a sweep over University of Toledo but losing the next night in a three-set match against the Cardinals of Ball State University.

After Saturday’s deflating loss to the Cardinals, Gromala said the Flashes’ defense needed improvement to slow down a hard-hitting offense like Ball State.

“We are working on some tweaks in our defensive system to try to force teams to hit it at our better blockers,” Gromala said.

Freshman libero Challen Geraghty anchors the defense this season with 329 digs.

Offensively, the team’s balanced attack will seek production and results from its two middle blockers, junior Bridget Wilhelm and senior Liz Reikow. Although senior outside hitter Tinuke Aderemi-Ibitola statistically leads the team offensively this season, Wilhelm and Reikow account for more than 30 percent of the team’s kills. Defensively, the middle blockers are pivotal, Gromala said.

“They don’t have to block every ball, but we need to make sure their timing’s good to create space so we can dig behind them,” he said. “When teams have a good right side and middle attack, it’s tough to defend, and that’s what both of those teams bring to the table.”

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].