Flashes impress again despite first match loss

Jimmy Miller

Box Score — University of Montana

Although it didn’t appear promising at first, Kent State volleyball returned to its winning ways this weekend at the Mountaineer Invitational in West Virginia.

“I don’t know if we’re ecstatic about the weekend,” head coach Don Gromala said. “I don’t think we played our best overall volleyball. We’ve got to focus on ourselves.”

The first match of Friday’s pair of contests didn’t bode well for the Flashes (7-2), as West Virginia University’s play at the net led to its first decisive victory of the weekend. The Mountaineers dropped the first set to the Flashes, but returned to win the match in four, outscoring Kent State by 24 points.

“We had opportunities to win that (match),” Gromala said following Friday’s match. “We couldn’t catch up to them defensively.”

The Flashes took the court again just hours later to square off with Saint Francis University. The Red Flash saw a different Kent State look than the Mountaineers did, as Gromala decided to let other players take the most minutes on the court. After coming out stale in the first set, Gromala’s new lineup began pounding away at the Red Flash defense. Senior outside hitter Lauren Engleman finished with 15 kills and 16.5 points.

Gromala said the decision to start other girls came from a desire to find the best lineup for Mid-American Conference matches.

“We were testing other people out just to see how they do,” Gromala said Friday.

Kent State took to the court one last time in West Virginia Saturday, seeking to come away with its third consecutive winning weekend. The team did that by completing a five-set thriller over the University of Montana.

After dropping the first set, 28-26, the Flashes continued their uphill battle in the match, winning the second set, 26-24, and pushing the match a fifth and final set. The last set proved to be the climax of the match, as Kent State took it 15-13.

Engleman dazzled again with her own performance, finishing with 16 kills and two blocks. Junior middle blocker Bridget Wilhelm had five of the team’s six blocks, and senior middle blocker Liz Reikow chipped in 10 more kills plus the other block.

The match point came from a crosscourt kill from Engleman.

“We started off really strong (in that fifth set), and they picked up their blocking at the end of the match,” Gromala said. “On that match point, (Engleman) went aggressive with it. It was a big clutch swing to end it and make us not go into extra time.”

A mix of statistical leaders shows that the lineup is still subject to change and by committee for each match.

“We’re a little bit beat up right now, so we’re going to find the best lineup for (us) Tuesday,” Gromala said, citing that freshman outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger tweaked her non-hitting shoulder in the match.

The Flashes will return to the M.A.C. Center Tuesday to take on Youngstown State University, a team that defeated Kent State in four sets last season.

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected]