Volleyball hopes tough practices pay off with wins

Ashley Sepanski

Kent State seeks to eliminate mental errors before matches

“You have to be aggressive to block!” Kent State volleyball coach Glen Conley shouts while demonstrating proper blocking techniques. The volleyball team takes note and attempts to correct their blocking errors.

A few plays later, after missing a dig during a scrimmage, Conley somersaults in defeat onto the gym floor while his team laughs in unison.

The Kent State volleyball team practices three hours at a time, multiple days a week to get ready for upcoming games. Although the lengthy sessions have a serious undertone, the team practices are optimistic and have a positive feel.

“We’re doing what we love,” Conley said. “So it should be fun.”

Practices include basic scrimmages and drills, but instead of watching and correcting from the sidelines, the coaches actually play. Conley serves, digs, sets and hits with his team, all while making notes and changes on a giant dry erase board.

“We try to keep track of everything,” Conley said.

Not quite everything, but close. The dry erase board contains plays, rotations, statistics, wins and losses.

“We’re trying to allow for flexibility to make changes,” Conley said. “It makes the girls aware (of how they’re playing) and helps them to see it.”

For every kill, dig or win in practice, the team cheers loudly, high-fives and marks it down. For every mistake, they issue words of encouragement, high-fives and mark it down.

Mistakes, Conley said, come in two categories: physical and mental.

“Physical mistakes are OK,” Conley said. “Missing a serve or dig can be adjusted. Mental mistakes like not calling the ball or talking require punishment.”

If the Flashes get too quiet during practice, they face a penalty: stairs. The team runs up the bleacher stairs, around the railing and back down again until they are told to stop. Typical stair punishments involve 10 laps up and down the bleachers.

“The girls weren’t communicating (Tuesday),” Conley said. “That’s why they ran stairs.”

Toward the end of each practice, every member of the team still looks happy to be there, sweat, stairs and all.

“All team practices help us get ready to play,” senior outside hitter Arjola Prenga said. “We hope to win.”

Kent State’s attention to detail in practice finally paid off when the team broke its 18-match losing streak, the longest in school history, September 5 against Cornell.

“We’re doing the right things,” Conley added. “The girls are excited to get out and play and get some wins under our belt.”

This week the Flashes prepare to face St. Peter’s, Evansville and Wright State in the Raider Challenge in Dayton. Tournament host Wright State was voted to finish the season in the top-25 and has nine letter winners returning from last season.

Returning junior middle blocker Shaundra Sandifer leads the Raiders as a selection for the All-Horizon League team. She led the league in 2008 with 29 solo blocks and 132 blocks overall.

Sandifer, along with teammates Lexi Leonhard and Becca Awaa, was recently named to the All-Tournament team after defeating North Texas on September 6 at the Golden Grizzly Invitational. Sandifer and Leonhard each scored 32 kills for the weekend, while Awaa totaled 27 digs and four aces.

“We’re going to compete the best we can,” Conley said. “I just want to see the girls get out there and support each other.”

Kent State will travel to Dayton on Friday to play St. Peter’s at 5 p.m.

“We have a good shot to win,” Conley said. “I’m certainly excited to get down there.”

Contact sports reporter Ashley Sepanski at [email protected]