Offense gels as volleyball team rides winning streak

Doug Gulasy

Volleyball coach Glen Conley said early in the season that when his team’s offense came around, the Flashes would have a “very strong team.”

Now he believes that time has come.

After the Flashes defeated Mid-American Conference West Division leaders Northern Illinois and Western Michigan this weekend to extend their winning streak to five, Conley said the team’s offense has become a major factor in its success.

“The offense is starting to gel,” he said. “We run a pretty complex offense, and our passing has really solidified, and I think the players are just starting to get into the groove and understand how to run the offense (and) its timing. All those kinds of things have improved, and it makes it very difficult for the opponent to score against us.”

Four players had matches in which they reached double-digits in kills this weekend — seniors Anne Zakelj and Anja Knabe-Paulsen, junior Ashley Feutz and freshman Lauren Jones.

Conley said that because his team has four hitters who can play well on any given night, it makes it difficult for an opposing team to stop the Flashes.

“In the lineups that we’re running, we have at least two of those people in the front row in every rotation,” he said. “It’s very difficult to key on one person. So we can spread (the opponent) out across the net and attack quickly enough so that they can’t double-block.”

Even though the Flashes (17-6, 8-2 MAC) came away with two victories this weekend, they had to work hard to get them.

Western Michigan (16-8, 7-3 MAC) won the first game of the match, 30-22.

“They came out hard, they came out strong and they just came out stronger than we did,” Zakelj said. “But we were able to make adjustments, and they couldn’t … We were able to take control.”

Conley said the biggest adjustment made was in the timing of his team’s blocking because Western Michigan’s offensive scheme was faster than it had appeared on film.

“Once we were able to make those adjustments, the girls did a great job,” he said. “We were able to shut down a couple of their hitters…They had a couple of girls who really lit it up (Saturday) night and did well, but we can deal with one or two.”

After losing the first game, the team swept the next three by scores of 30-25, 32-30 and 30-26, completing its second comeback of the weekend.

Friday at Northern Illinois, the Flashes trailed the Huskies 2-1 before winning the final two games to take the match 3-2.

“(Coming back) is all about whether you can keep your head,” Zakelj said. “There’s a lot of pressure, but you can’t let that affect you in a negative way. You have to be able to focus on what the adjustments are that you’re making and what you need to get done in order to win the game.”

After Northern Illinois won game three of the match by a 30-19 score, the Flashes won the fourth game 30-25 and took a 14-8 lead in the deciding fifth game, played to 15 points.

However, Northern Illinois scored five consecutive points to cut its deficit to one.

“The old adage in volleyball is that the last point is the hardest one to earn,” Conley said. “And it is — that’s the toughest point to get. A lot of things can change when you’re sitting on that last point.”

The Huskies couldn’t complete their comeback attempt because Feutz recorded her 28th kill of the evening to end the match.

By defeating the top two teams from the MAC West Division, the Flashes managed to stay in a tie for third in the MAC East with Bowling Green, behind Miami and Ohio — all three of which won both of their matches this weekend.

The Flashes will return to action by hosting Buffalo on Friday at 7 p.m. and Akron on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Contact volleyball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].