Tourney bye in jeopardy after two MAC losses

Doug Gulasy

With two victories this weekend, the Kent State volleyball team could have all but sewn up a bye in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. One victory would have kept the Flashes in good position for a bye.

Two losses, however, would put the team’s chances for a bye in jeopardy.

After the Flashes lost 3-0 at Miami on Friday and 3-2 at Bowling Green on Saturday, the last of the three situations seems to be the case.

The two losses dropped the team’s record to 19-8 and 10-4 in the MAC and put the Flashes in fourth place in the MAC East.

“I think experience counts for something right now, and you have to learn,” Kent State coach Glen Conley said. “We’ve never been in this situation (fighting for a bye) before. The girls on our team, they’ve never been there. They’ve been there in high school … but they’ve never been there at this intensity, at this level of play. It takes a focus, a really strong focus, and that’s something that you have to learn.”

With just two matches remaining, the team seems to be on the outside looking in for a bye. The Flashes have a tougher remaining schedule than Bowling Green, the primary team they are fighting for a bye.

Kent State plays at nationally ranked Ohio on Thursday night before hosting Eastern Michigan (18-11, 8-6 MAC) Saturday, while the Falcons play road matches against the bottom two teams in the MAC East, Buffalo and Akron.

Saturday at Bowling Green, the Flashes fell behind the Falcons 2-0, losing the first game 30-23 and the second 30-25. In game one, the Flashes had five-point leads twice before Bowling Green came back to win.

The team didn’t give up, battling through a back-and-forth third game and winning it 33-31, then coming back from an eight-point deficit to win game four, 30-26.

However, the Flashes ended up two points short of completing the comeback, as Bowling Green won the fifth and deciding game by a 15-13 score.

Still, Conley said he was proud of the way the team fought after falling behind.

“We could have folded — we could easily have folded,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I think we were thinking about it. It’s hard to fight through when things aren’t going real well. It’s really tough to keep pace and continue to work hard and believe. It’s easier to become an individual and just go through the motions and play the game, but it’s hard to come together as a team and to really support your teammates and to believe that good things are going to happen and to continue to plod and work for the win.

“… I was really impressed and happy that we were able to continue to fight and put ourselves in a position to be in that fifth game, to take swings for the win.”

Against Miami on Friday, the Flashes got swept 3-0, losing the games 30-24, 30-26 and 30-23. Kent State had multiple-point leads in both the second and third games, but the RedHawks came back to win both games. It was the second time this season the Flashes lost 3-0 to Miami.

“We did not play well on Friday night,” Conley said. “I don’t think that we were ready for maybe the intensity at which the game was going to be played at. I talked to the team a little bit about that.

“Basically … Miami and us were both fighting for the same thing — we both want that bye, and Miami came out a little more intense, I think, than we did. Maybe it caught us off guard a bit, but we were just never able to really rebound.”

The team still has an outside chance for a bye in the MAC Tournament, but that chance probably hinges on whether the Flashes can defeat both Ohio and Eastern Michigan.

“We’re going to go down there and take our shot at (Ohio), and then we’ve got Eastern Michigan at home,” Conley said. “… We felt like over these next two weekends, we had to go 2-2 in order to get a bye — we had to split. We were hoping for a split this weekend, (but) we didn’t get it. So now that puts us in a position where if we don’t win two, we’re not going to get the bye, and we’re going to have to play a playoff game at home. We’d rather not do that, and we’re going to fight like crazy to not have to do that.”

Contact volleyball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].