Volleyball falls in three straight matches

Jimmy Miller

Box Score — Towson University

Box Score — St. John’s University

Box Score — North Dakota State University

Kent State volleyball was riding high on momentum prior to this weekend, as head coach Don Gromala led the Flashes to their best record in his three-year tenure.

Three matches later, Kent State might be scrapping to regain momentum for the most important portion of their season: Mid-American-Conference play.

“Our girls always know every match is important, so win or lose beforehand, they’re going to come out as focused as ever,” Gromala said.

Kent State dropped three consecutive matches Friday and Saturday on its road trip to the Tiger Invitational. The Flashes (8-5) dropped a four-set match to Towson University, and then two five-set heartbreakers to St. John’s University and North Dakota State University.

“It wasn’t a great weekend because we went 0-3,” Gromala said. “I think we didn’t really play that bad. We played some good teams.”

The team opened up the trip Friday with Towson, the host of the invitational, and could not muster enough offense to tame the Tigers. The Flashes came out flat in the first two sets, as they dropped the first, 25-16, and the second, 25-15; however, Kent State put together an impressive 25-22 third set and looked poised to make a comeback in the fourth set. Although junior opposite Kelly Hutchison registered eight kills and four blocks in the match, the Tigers proved too much for the Flashes to handle.

“They had some physical middles,” Gromala said. “We tried to change up things defensively with our block and our defense. Our defense picked up, and our block didn’t. We didn’t really have the blocking.”

Senior outside hitter Tinuke Aderemi-Ibitola and senior middle blocker Liz Reikow notched 12 kills apiece in the next match against St. John’s University later in the evening. Despite an offensive improvement from their earlier match against Towson, the Flashes still fall in five sets.

After four up-and-down sets, the Flashes hoped to squeeze out a victory against the Red Storm. Kent State couldn’t catch up after trailing 5-1 in the fifth set despite a solid effort from senior opposite Lauren Engleman, who finished with four kills in the set.

Senior defensive specialist Kaylee Koller and freshman outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger led the defense in the match, totaling 23 collective digs.

After a night’s rest, the Flashes took the court Saturday morning in the final match of the invitational. A set of new faces faced the Flashes, but the same story of the weekend played out as the Bison topped Kent State in five sets.

“When you win (the matches), it feels like you’ve won the MAC championship, and when you lose them, it’s heartbreaking,” Gromala said.

The offense found its groove in the match, as four players—Bittinger, Reikow, Aderemi-Ibitola and Hutchison—finished with double-digit kills. Freshman libero Challen Geraghty tallied 23 digs, continuing her successful freshman campaign on defense.

Despite a more effective collective effort, the Flashes still were unable to match North Dakota State’s offensive run in the fifth, falling behind by five points early on.

“We’ve just got to play cleaner volleyball,” Gromala said. “We just gave away too many points to be successful, which we weren’t doing previously this season.”

Reikow proved to be a bright spot for the Flashes at the invitational, as she was honored an all-tournament team slot.

“She was the most consistent for us,” Gromala said. “That’s good to see coming in for a team like Ohio, who’s got some really physical players. She’s going to pose problems for them.”

Kent State will look ahead to its next match — a road date with Ohio University, the MAC champions in 2013 — this Thursday night.

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].