KSU volleyball edges Akron in four sets

Jimmy Miller

Box Score

Junior middle blocker Bridget Wilhelm and the Flashes’ offense found a rhythm Friday and stuck to it, even when the sets became back-and-forth battles.

“We train hard,” Wilhelm said. “We work on bleeding in practice and sweating in games. We’re ready for the long volleys. Our lungs can take it.”

Lifted by the largest crowd of the season with 427 people in attendance at the M.A.C. Center, Kent State won its first Mid-American Conference match of the season against the University of Akron. The Flashes (9-7, 1-2) rallied late in the fourth set to seal the match with the Zips (7-11, 1-2)

“Offensively, we did some really good things,” Kent State coach Don Gromala said. “We served a lot better. I think that was kind of the difference at the end of that match.”

The Zips kept the Flashes modest throughout the night, finding gaps in defense; however, timely Akron mistakes and an offense led by Wilhelm turned the momentum toward the Flashes’ favor at pivotal moments in the match.

Wilhelm hit .700 in the match and finished with 14 kills, while senior outside hitter Lauren Engleman added 15 kills of her own.

Kent State opened its first set with an early lead and never looked back. Led by Wilhelm and freshman outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger, the Flashes outplayed the Zips despite having similar offensive statistics.

The second set told a different narrative. Led by freshman outside hitter Anna Wenger, the Zips found their stride and held off the Flashes in a 25-19 contest.

A back-and-forth bout ensued for the next two sets. Although Akron appeared to gain the upper hand, the Flashes ripped it back in a narrow 25-23 victory in the third set. The Flashes saw themselves down in the count again in the fourth set, at one point trailing, 17-1, but Kent State’s hitters clicked on all cylinders down the stretch and pulled out the decisive 25-22 set.

“We never believe that we’re out of any set until the (last) point at 25,” Wilhelm said. “No matter how far we’re down, we believe in each other enough to come back from anything.”

Kent State returns to the M.A.C. Center Saturday for another conference matchup with the University at Buffalo. Gromala said the Bulls will provide a different challenge in the dominance of one player: junior outside hitter, Tahleia Bishop.

“They’ve got one outstanding player who’s probably going to be one of the top candidates for player of the year in the conference,” Gromala said. “We’ve got to contain her and then make sure nobody else catches on fire.”

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].