Volleyball team to host Buffalo in tournament

Doug Gulasy

Though the volleyball team didn’t accomplish its season-long goal of getting a bye in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, the Flashes did get the opportunity to play one more home match this season.

The team clinched the No. 5 seed in the tournament and will host Buffalo in a first-round match at 7 p.m. today in the M.A.C. Center.

“We earned that. We earned the right to host a playoff match, and we’re going to be ready for that,” Kent State coach Glen Conley said. “It’s going to be exciting.”

Buffalo (2-30, 1-15 MAC) comes into the match tonight as the No. 12 seed, the lowest in the conference. The Bulls’ lone conference win came when they defeated Akron 3-1 Sept. 27. Since then, the team has lost 13 straight matches, all by 3-0 scores.

The Flashes (20-9, 11-5 MAC) twice defeated Buffalo by 3-0 scores, on Sept. 22 and Oct. 26. Still, senior Anne Zakelj said the Bulls are not to be taken lightly.

“It’s intense, regardless — (with) everybody you’re playing. You can’t take anybody for granted,” Zakelj said. “You’ve got to treat every match like this is the final point in game five.”

The Flashes won 10 of their first 12 conference matches, but they have lost three of their past four. All of those losses came to teams with first-round byes, meaning the Flashes could play those teams in future rounds if they win tonight.

“After losing those couple matches this week, I’m sure some people are kind of writing us off and thinking, ‘Oh, you know, they were a first-half team and they’re kind of slumping now,'” senior Laura Jensen said. “We just want to come back and play some good Kent State volleyball and make a run, maybe be the underdogs.”

The team could be considered an underdog simply because of its No. 5 ranking. No team seeded lower than third in the tournament has ever won it, and nearly every year the top-ranked team wins it.

Ohio comes into the tournament as the top-ranked team after finishing the regular season with a 15-1 conference record. The Bobcats are looking to win their fifth consecutive MAC Tournament.

Miami, Western Michigan and Bowling Green also finished above Kent State in tournament seeding.

The Flashes compiled just a 2-5 record against the top four teams this season, but senior Anja Knabe-Paulsen believes the team has the ability to compete.

“We’re going to have a shot if we really bring it all together and fight,” she said. “I’m excited — there are some great teams out there, but we have a shot.”

If the Flashes do win the tournament, it would be the first in program history. Only once did a Kent State team play in the finals of the MAC Tournament — that came in 1996, when the Flashes lost 3-0 to Miami.

This season’s team has perhaps the best chance of any Kent State volleyball team since 1996 to win a championship. The Flashes won 20 matches for the first time since 1997 and their 11 MAC wins tied the program record for conference wins in a season.

Conley said he wants to see how well the Flashes compete against the other teams in the tournament.

“We just want to see how good we can be,” he said. “We’re not setting any other goals. At this point in time, you lose and you go home, so we want to see how far we can get into this and how good we can be, and that’s our goal.”

Contact volleyball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].