Flashes start MAC play at 2-0

Josh Johnston

Volleyball begins conference play with weekend wins over Ohio and Akron

The Kent State volleyball team started the Mid-American Conference season right if they intend to play for the conference championship in November. After winning both of their matches this weekend, the Flashes are tied for first in the MAC East with Ohio.

Kent State (12-2, 2-0 MAC) swept Buffalo 25-17, 25-14, 25-19 on Friday and then topped Akron in four sets on Saturday.

“We want to win the MAC Championship, so we’ve got to start somewhere,” junior setter Katie Veatch said. “It’s important that we came out strong.”

The Flashes came out swinging against rival Akron in the first set. The team made 13 kills and only one error to post a .600 hitting percentage and take the set 25-13.

The Zips stayed close to Kent State in the second set, using a quick three-point run late in the set to come within two points. The Flashes escaped the threat to win the set 25-20.

“When you expend so much energy sometimes in one game, it’s just a natural thing to have a little bit of an energy drop,” Kent State coach Glen Conley said. “The other team, of course, loses that first game, and they’ve got a little bit of an energy rise. I think that’s probably what happened in there.”

Kent State held the Zips to a .05 hitting percentage in the set by making 14 digs and six blocks.

The Flashes held onto the lead in the third set until the Zips made a 4-0 run to tie the set at 19. Kent State and Akron then exchanged points, tying the score four more times, until the Zips won the final two points to take the set 25-23.

“I think we started playing tentative,” Veatch said about the third set. “After we clicked out of that, we started playing better. The big thing was we’re faster than them, so we needed to pick up our speed of play.”

A 14-2 run by the Flashes in the fourth set sealed the match for the team. Kent State made only one error while hitting .560 with 15 kills in the final set. Conley said the team had gotten away from their fast style of play in the middle sets.

“We have to take chances,” he said. “We have to run fast in order to be successful. That’s who we are. We sort of got away from that a little bit.”

Against the Bulls on Friday, the Flashes posted their highest hitting percentage of the season at .423. Three of Kent State’s women recorded double-digit kills, and the team only committed 10 hitting errors during the match.

“It wasn’t just one thing to win,” said sophomore outside hitter Lauren Jones, who made 11 kills. “It was also one thing that we played well. We played strong right from the start to set the tone for the match.”

Kent State controlled almost the entire match, only getting behind to the Bulls at the beginning of the second set. Buffalo, however, used a five-point run to come within a point of the Flashes late in the third set.

“We relaxed,” Jones said. “You can’t do that because then teams come back in. Once we have the lead, we have to learn to bury them and not relax and let them play with us. We have to keep attacking.”

Kent State made a five-point stretch of its own after Buffalo’s run to end the set and take the match, 25-19.

Conley had nothing but respect for the Bulls, who he said had a similar playing style to the Flashes.

“It was like playing a mirror image,” Conley said. “It made it easier to prepare for and a little more difficult because we like our playing style. You know what to expect, but it’s difficult to stop.”

Next weekend Kent State will face Miami and Bowling Green on the road. Conley said the Flashes have a lot of confidence from their 2-0 start.

“Miami’s the defending champion,” he said. “We know (Bowling Green) will be gunning for us because we knocked them out of last year. That’s a tough road trip. We’ll have no problem getting up for it.”

Contact sports reporter Josh Johnson at [email protected].