Volleyball ends regular season by honoring seniors, beating EMU

Doug Gulasy

On a night when the Kent State volleyball team honored its three seniors for their contributions to the program, those seniors proved they still had some things left to contribute.

The Flashes (20-9, 11-5 Mid-American Conference) defeated Eastern Michigan 3-1 Saturday night at the M.A.C. Center, thanks in large part to seniors Laura Jensen, Anja Knabe-Paulsen and Anne Zakelj.

“We’re going to miss those three something tremendously,” Kent State coach Glen Conley said. “We can’t worry about replacing them right now because they’re still on the team and we’ve got a lot of work to do, but it was a nice night. I’m glad that they went out on Senior Night in such a fashion.”

Knabe-Paulsen led the Flashes with 18 kills, and Zakelj added 11 kills and assisted on five blocks. Jensen tied the school record for single-match digs and broke the record for single-season digs, both of which had been her own records anyway.

“I just joke that I’m just glad I didn’t peak as a freshman,” Jensen said. “I never quite got back to 42 (digs in a match), never really got close. Tying that record is nice. I did it more than once, it wasn’t just a fluke, but the win and the kind of season we’re having is just amazing.”

Before the match, the team honored the seniors with the arena announcer reading each player’s accomplishments. For Knabe-Paulsen, a native of Germany, the team played the German national anthem before the match.

“You’re not supposed to treat (Senior Night) any different, but it was just awesome,” Knabe-Paulsen said. “With them preparing us, the announcement, and especially when they played the German national anthem, you just get so hyped.”

The Flashes had to come back to win the back-and-forth first game. Though Eastern Michigan trailed for much of the game, the Eagles took a three-point lead at 27-24.

After a Kent State timeout, the Flashes scored the next four points and held onto the lead to win, 32-30. Knabe-Paulsen recorded eight kills in the game.

“Eastern did a great job adjusting the second and third game (to) how we were hitting,” Knabe-Paulsen said. “I had the seam, I went for it and I got the kill the whole first game.”

Game two featured six lead changes and 12 ties, the last coming at 29-29. Junior Ashley Feutz then recorded a kill to give the Flashes the lead before sophomore Heather Dixon won the game with a service ace to give Kent State a 2-0 lead.

However, Eastern Michigan won the third game, 30-24, to cut its deficit to one in the match. It then seemed as if game four would be another close one, as the teams fought through 15 ties and seven lead changes.

Senior accomplishments:

-Laura Jensen: Jensen has started since her freshman year, when she set the Kent State single-match and single-season records for digs. She has broken her single-season record for digs every year since then and became the career leader in that category last season. This year, she has appeared in every match, one of just four Flashes to do so. She tied her single-match record and broke her single-season record for digs in Saturday’s victory over Eastern Michigan. She leads the Mid-American Conference in digs this season and also ranks fourth in MAC history for digs.

-Anja Knabe-Paulsen: Knabe-Paulsen has played in every match this season and has recorded career-highs in kills, kills per game, hitting percentage, service aces, blocks and digs, plus several other categories. She leads the team in kills, kills per game, service aces and aces per game. She has 389 kills this season and needs 20 more to record the 10th-highest single-season mark in that category. She ranks second in the MAC in service aces and aces per game and is seventh in kills.

-Anne Zakelj: Zakelj has established career-highs in kills per game and hitting percentage this season. Despite missing six matches with an injury, she leads the team in hitting percentage and ranks second in blocks and fourth in kills. She also ranks fifth in the MAC with her .297 hitting percentage. Zakelj was named to the all-tournament team at the Tribe Classic held at William and Mary earlier this season and needs 17 more kills to reach 1,000 for her Kent State career.

The Flashes trailed 17-16 in that fourth game, but a Knabe-Paulsen kill provided the first point of what became a 14-2 run to close out the game and the match in a Kent State victory.

“(We needed to) take them out as soon as possible,” Zakelj said. “Glen always says, ‘Smell blood in the water,’ and that’s what we had to do.”

For the match, the Flashes had just nine hitting errors and recorded 15 blocks, one below their season high.

“I think blocking was what turned it around for us,” Zakelj said. “That just gets the adrenaline going, and it gets the whole team just pumped. And you can tell that when the team’s focused, we’re able to block. Just knowing we had the blocks means that we’re all there, on the same page.”

The victory gave the Flashes their first 20-win season since 1997 and tied the program record for MAC wins in a season with 11. The team also snapped a three-match losing streak.

“We took some pretty good shots the last couple of weeks,” Conley said. “I think to be able to come out and put an effort in (Saturday) shows that it didn’t knock us out.”

Saturday’s match should also provide a memory that the seniors won’t forget anytime soon.

“I just felt really special, really honored and like (the team) really cared about tonight and it was a big deal,” Jensen said. “It was just nice to be here for all of it and share it with my family and good friends.

“Kent State’s meant a lot to me, and it’s been the best four years of my life. I wouldn’t trade the four years I’ve had here for anything.”

Contact volleyball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].