Volleyball off to best start ever

Doug Gulasy

Before the 2007 season, the Kent State volleyball team had started a season better than 4-0 about as many times as an Ohio State fan roots for Michigan: zero.

How quickly things change.

With three victories this weekend at the Tribe Classic at Kaplan Arena in Williamsburg, Va., the Flashes moved to 7-0 on the season, the best start in program history.

“I think we’re gaining confidence, starting to believe in ourselves definitely and starting to trust each other,” coach Glen Conley said. “I think that probably the biggest thing is developing trust, and when you have a start like this, you develop a lot of that.”

Still, while Conley said “we’re fortunate and happy to be 7-0,” he made it clear that he hadn’t set that as a benchmark for the season.

“I’ve never sat down and talked (with the team) about records or anything like that,” Conley said. “We talked about how we want to play, and how we want to be perceived by people who watch us play. That’s more important to us than even the wins and the losses is just, we’re going to show up and compete.”

The Flashes definitely showed up and competed with Southern Illinois Friday, defeating the Salukis 3-0 and taking the individual games 30-23, 30-21 and 30-23. It was the Flashes’ fourth 3-0 victory of the year.

The team then played two matches Saturday, toppling both tournament host William and Mary and East Carolina by scores of 3-1. In both matches, the team lost the first game but rebounded to win the next three.

“You never want to start off in the hole,” Conley said. ‘You’d always like to start off strong, but I think what it shows is tremendous character from the girls and a tremendous desire to win, which they’ve amazed me with.”

Some individuals stood out over the weekend. Senior captain Laura Jensen was named Tournament MVP for her performance, which included a total of 73 digs in three matches. Sophomore Jenny Keck, who had 87 assists, and senior Anne Zakelj, who tallied 22 total kills, were also named to the All-Tournament Team.

“Jenny Keck was saving balls out of the net, (making) tight passes and we were able to get a lot of kills on them, and she did a tremendous job,” Conley said. “A lot of the officials made mention that she was one of the best setters they’d seen in a while.”

“J.J. (Jensen) … she’s a defensive machine, she anchors our serve receive, and it’s really good to see her get that recognition because most of the time, liberos, defensive players don’t get the recognition,” Conley added. “Anne Zakelj is, and I’ve told Anne this, she’s a woman playing among girls. She is just a dominant force in a volleyball match, and people have got to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how they’re going to stop her or slow her down.”

While only Jensen, Keck and Zakelj received individual recognition, Conley said he “could mention everyone” on the team for playing well, contributing to the team’s record start.

“A team effort, it’s what’s so important,” he said. “The girls gave J.J. a standing ovation when she got on the bus because she won the MVP. They’re rooting for each other, pulling for each other, it’s really nice to see.”

As is a 7-0 start.

Contact volleyball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].