East trumps West in MAC volleyball play

Doug Gulasy

Kent State Senior outside hitter Anja Knabe- Paulsen reaches over Toledo’s block in Friday’s game at the M.A.C. Center. Kent won the match in three games. CAITLIN PRARAT | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

Kent State volleyball coach Glen Conley knew when he took over in January that it would be “very difficult” for his team to become one of the top three teams in the Mid-American Conference East Division.

His reasoning? The three teams that finished above Kent State in the division standings last season (Ohio, Miami and Bowling Green) were all good teams.

“The teams are all very strong, and we’re not there yet,” he said. “We’re in position to make a move to do that, but we’re not there yet, and that’s definitely the goal.”

The Flashes currently have a 6-2 conference record, which in the West Division of the MAC would be good enough to put the team in second place .

In the East, however, the Flashes are tied for third with Bowling Green, one behind Miami and Ohio for first place.

“Ohio has obviously always been a powerhouse in the East, and it’s always been between Miami and BG (for second place),” junior Ashley Feutz said. “Now that we have the team that we have, I think all four teams have really stepped up, and it’s a great competition.

“It’s a great part of the conference to be in. I’d much rather be on the East side than the West side because you have to come to play every night (in the East).”

How good is the East compared to the West? The top four teams in the East hold a combined record of 12-0 against West teams. Also, the only conference losses for the East’s top four have come against each other.

“This is why the East is so strong – everybody keeps winning,” Conley said. “The top four teams in the East keep winning against everybody else, and as long as that keeps happening, that’s why the head-to-heads are so important.”

Unlike the past four seasons, when Ohio dominated the division by going a combined 63-1 in MAC play, this year’s East race seems to be more open and competitive.

“It’s a four-way fight for first, and we’re definitely in that tight fight for first place,” senior Anne Zakelj said. “That alone makes it different than past years. It really can go anyway.”

Ohio had its first MAC loss since 2003 when they lost to Miami at home Sept. 28, but Feutz said that a team will still have to beat Ohio to win the conference title.

“The only way we’re going to make it into the NCAA (Tournament) is if we beat OU in the MAC finals,” Feutz said. “That’s our goal, and we all have full confidence that that’s what we’re going to do.”

Miami and Bowling Green might have something to say about that, especially since Miami beat both the Flashes and Ohio this season on the road, and Bowling Green beat Miami despite losing to Ohio and the Flashes.

Conley said all of the teams have utilized different strengths to get to where they are currently.

“Ohio University’s done it with just power, just attacking power at the net and speed of play,” he said. “They play faster than anybody in the MAC, except perhaps us…Miami does it more with their outside hitting power, and Bowling Green does it more with their middle hitter power, so each of the teams are a little different.

“We are, I think, pretty diverse. We have a lot of different people who can hurt you – I think we have four people who can put up big numbers just about any night. It’s very difficult to key on our hitters.”

The other top teams in the East have won conference titles, but the Flashes never have – something that could change this year.

“We’re definitely in the running, and we’re making teams have to beat us in order to get by,” Zakelj said. “I think that’s a huge part in the top four – that nobody can relax.”

Contact volleyball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected]