Volleyball: Playing hard til’ the end

Josh Johnston

I knew absolutely nothing about volleyball coming into this semester. I had never even been to a volleyball match before Kent State’s first match against Duquesne in September. I think I watched it once during the Olympics.

So during this semester while I covered the team, I learned the game pretty well. I found out what a setter does, how to pronounce libero (it’s French, or something like that) and players are allowed to use their feet to save the ball.

But what I really learned in the 15 volleyball matches and countless practices I watched is the Flashes never quit.

The Kent State volleyball team saw a promising season turn sour, then a sour season turn even worse. A 12-3 start, then a 10-match losing streak.

But the way the team saw it, when life gives you lemons, work harder and beat the pulp out of them.

Each loss only fueled their desire to win. The more defeats, the more sweat in practice. Both players and coaches wouldn’t give up, like a broken prizefighter clinging to the ropes, struggling to stand against the count.

Whenever asked if the team was feeling down after a loss, Kent State coach Glen Conley always deflected the question. He’d talk about how athletes cannot hang their heads and give up.

The truth was, sometimes after a loss, his players did hang their heads. A tough loss was always followed by a hug from sympathetic parents who traveled hours every week just to see their daughters play. Come Monday afternoon though, the team was back in the gym, more determined than ever.

The players’ confidence, powered by Conley’s intensity, amazed me. Each player truly believed the next weekend would be the one. The matches that would break the losing streak. The matches that would turn the season around. The matches that would define Kent State volleyball.

Those matches never came. But the team never stopped believing. And the team never gave up.

After Kent State’s close-but-no-cigar loss to Northern Illinois in the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament, I called Conley fully expecting to hear the worst. After all, the team had just witnessed the Huskies come from behind to end its conference season.

I expected frustration, anger, disappointment and maybe even a few tears. What I got was determination. The same determination Conley has shown all season.

The volleyball team ended its season last weekend with 11 straight losses, one of the worst losing streaks in the program’s history. Conley said he saw this season as an learning opportunity

“We’ve got to get past this,” he said after Cleveland State shellacked the Flashes 3-1 last Saturday. “You can’t dwell on it, but you’ve got to learn from mistakes. If you don’t learn from them, boy, what a waste. Not only do you have the losses, which kill you, but then if you don’t learn from it, then you’ve lost any opportunity you have to improve for the future.

“That’s what we’re doing. We’re going to learn from this and take those lessons. Develop a competitive attitude.”

Contact sports reporter Josh Johnston at [email protected].