Volleyball seeking rebound against backyard rival


Tinuke Aderemi-Ibitola, outside hitter, hits the ball against Youngstown State University to gain a point at the game Sept. 16, 2014. The Flashes won, 3-2.

Jimmy Miller

The Kent State volleyball team expects to play a close match Friday in what has traditionally been a scrappy rivalry match against the University of Akron.

“Akron is a huge rival for us — we are always really pumped up about (the match),” junior opposite Kelly Hutchison said. “Both teams being out to beat each other always makes for a competitive atmosphere.”

The Zips (7-10, 1-1) revisit the Flashes (8-7, 0-2) this season seeking redemption. In their last meeting at the M.A.C. Center, Kent State narrowly slid past Akron in five sets. The match meant more than bragging rights between two rivals battling for points in the Wagon Wheel Challenge, but also proved pivotal in deciding who would ultimately take a trip to the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

“The rivalry (made that match close),” Kent state coach Don Gromala said. “It doesn’t really matter, the records—it’s all about pride.”

The Flashes look to rebound Friday after dropping two straight conference matches, while Akron seeks to build upon its three-set sweep of Bowling Green State University.

Kent State started the season on a hot streak, winning eight of its first 10 matches; however, a tough weekend at Towson University and a pair of conference road matches dropped the Flashes to seven losses.

Akron coach Ron Arenz knows those statistics, but doesn’t believe any of it will matter come first serve Friday.

“I think the rivalry is always a good one because emotions are a big part of it,” Arenz said. “Those emotions can be a distraction for both teams as well. The fact you’re playing your rival does add a carrot to that match.”

Gromala said the Flashes will be trying to regain their mojo at the net, especially with how well they finish blocks. Prior to their skid at Towson, opposing teams were hitting just .157 against the Flashes.

“Our level of play at the net is the most important thing,” Gromala said. “We’re not getting the one-on-one blocks we were getting in the past.”

Another key to winning the match will be how well the Flashes pass the ball, Gromala said. Freshman setter Brittney Jakscht enters Friday’s contest with 493 assists but still believes there is room for improvement.

“I’m trying to be more consistent with my sets so hitters can do what they need to do to put the ball away,” Jakscht said. “Scoring when we get the opportunities is going to help us.”

While Kent State’s offense appeared less productive last weekend, its balanced attack at hitting provides a challenge for Akron, Arenz said.

“It’ll be said that the team can force the other out of their comfort zone — puts them in the best possible chance to win points,” Arenz said.

In addition to Friday’s match with Akron, the Flashes will play another conference match Saturday against the University at Buffalo.

The Bulls boast a 12-4 record but hit the road Friday for a match with Ohio University, last year’s MAC champion.

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].