Volleyball faces tests in season’s closing weeks

Doug Gulasy

Glen Conley, Kent State volleyball coach, knows that the next week will provide a major test for his team.

The Flashes play road matches against Miami and Bowling Green this weekend before traveling to play Ohio on Thursday. The four teams are fighting for three bye seeds in the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

“This weekend (and) next weekend are really big weekends for us — and (so is) the following weekend,” Conley said. “Basically, we’re sort of viewing it like the playoffs are starting.”

With four matches left in the season (the Flashes close out the year by hosting Eastern Michigan), the tight race in the MAC East is nearing its finish. Currently, Ohio leads the division, with Miami and Kent State tied for second. Bowling Green ranks slightly behind the three in fourth place.

“We want to go 4-0 in the next four games, (and) maybe come out with the No. 1 seed,” junior Ashley Feutz said. “You want to go into this playing better than you’ve played all year.”

The Flashes have won seven matches in a row heading into this weekend, and Feutz believes the team has played better volleyball in doing so.

“In past years, we’ve done more of like a … slope down at the end of the year, whereas this year we’re really picking it up, which is what I think you need to do in order to finish as strong as you can,” she said.

When the Flashes played the same three teams at home earlier this year, they went 1-2 — defeating Bowling Green but losing to Miami and Ohio by 3-0 scores.

At the time, Conley said lack of preparation had hurt his team against Miami. This time, he said his team is more focused and ready to play the Redhawks.

One reason for this could be that the players are helping to create the team game plan. The Flashes did that before defeating Akron 3-0 Saturday, and the practice has continued this week.

Sophomore Jenny Keck said having the players create their own game plan helps them learn the other team’s tendencies.

“When you watch film yourself, you can see firsthand what their blockers are most likely to do, where their defense sets up and just how they play against certain attackers – just their tendencies,” she said. “I feel like you get a better feel for what they do when you watch it yourself.”

If the Flashes win both of their matches this weekend, they could pretty much solidify their chances for a bye.

As the top four teams in the MAC play each other this weekend, Conley believes that the team in first place has the most pressure.

“Any time you’re a defending champ, everybody’s looking at you, and they’re shooting for you and they’re gunning at you,” he said about four-time defending MAC champ Ohio. “…Of people whose expectations are highest, it’s always going to be the top team.

“…Everybody wants (a championship), but the key, for me at least, is as soon as the ball is served, (it) doesn’t matter who wants it the most. It matters who’s going to play the best.”

Contact volleyball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].