Flashes volleyball renews rivalry with conference foe


Kelly Hutchison spikes the ball against Youngstown State University to score a point for Kent State Sept. 16, 2014. The Flash won, 3-2.

Jimmy Miller

Mid-American Conference rival Ohio University swept Kent State volleyball the last time the Flashes took the court in 2013.

The two teams will meet again Thursday, both seeking to win their first conference match of the year.

“We know it’s a really good team and it’s going to be a good matchup,” junior middle blocker Bridget Wilhelm said. “I think we’re just really excited to get another opportunity to play them. It’s turning into a good rivalry for us.”

In the two teams’ last meeting, a first round match in the MAC tournament, the Bobcats took three close sets from the Flashes. Ohio University, the top seed of the tournament, went on to win its eighth MAC title, while Kent State went home empty-handed.

“We were disappointed,” senior middle blocker Liz Reikow said. “We really wanted to go out and get Ohio. I really want to go out there and surprise the MAC again (Thursday).”

Under the direction of head coach Don Gromala, the Flashes boast an 8-5 record; however, the Flashes the past three matches in a tough weekend at the Tiger Invitational in Towson, Maryland.

“Obviously our record shouldn’t affect (our) confidence very much, but we just feel a lot better knowing we have a couple wins under our belt,” Wilhelm said. “We do have some losses, but that’s good because we’re going to learn from that. We’ve put a lot of sweat on the court.”

Gromala said the Flashes saw a variety of different components earlier this season that the Bobcats offensively bring to the table.

“We’ve seen teams with strong outsides, we’ve seen teams with a double-quick offense, so we just have to focus on all that at once,” Gromala said.

Ohio University brings a few offensive studs into the contest, including last week’s MAC East Division Player of the Week in senior outside hitter Kelly Lamberti. The Flashes will also need to stop junior Abby Gilleland, a setter Gromala said has the ability to score, a trait the Flashes haven’t seen much this season.

Best of the Bobcats

  • Ohio University owns the all-time series record against the Flashes, 47-24. Webb may be new to the Bobcat program but not at winning matches. In his 11 years at Belmont University, his 207-138 record ranks best in the history of the program.

  • The Bobcats have won eight MAC titles since 2003, which was when they notched their first.

    “What happened in the past is truly the past, and it really doesn’t matter at this point,” Webb said. “There’s a little extra pressure on the new guy, I guess.”

  • Lamberti is in the top 10 of nine different school categories all-time, including her eighth spot on Ohio’s all-time kills list. Lamberti only needs six kills to move up to seventh on the list.

  • Lamberti ranks third in program history for kills per set, and she’s not alone on the list. Junior outside hitter Chelsea Bilger ranks eighth.

  • Gilleland not only scores points for the Bobcats, but also puts up assists, as she ranks fourth with 2,247 in her collegiate career.

First-year Ohio coach Deane Webb said Kent State will challenge his team with a balanced attack from a variety of offensive threats.

“Anytime you play a team that has multiple different weapons, we have to make sure that we understand at all times what’s in front of us,” Webb said. “If our vision is good, and we make sure we identify hitters, then we’ll have the opportunity to be a good defensive team.”

Gromala said the key to Thursday’s match will be neutralizing Ohio’s offensive attack.

“I think we pose some problems with them with our physicality at the net,” Gromala said. “That’s probably our best advantage at the net where we can have a pretty strong blocking performance to make their hitters change up what they do.”

Prior to the MAC tournament match, Kent State beat the Bobcats in its first meeting last season in four sets, but a late regular-season visit to Athens resulted in an Ohio win the next time around.

Kent State hasn’t won in Athens since 2001.

“Our team wants to try and get back at them, but last year is last year and this year is a different team for us and for them,” Gromala said. “If we get into a rhythm, it’s going to be a tough battle.”

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].