Volleyball beats Zips in a hostile Akron environment

Doug Gulasy

Two Kent State teams traveled to Akron and faced hostile crowds this weekend. One of the teams came away with a victory in its Mid-American Conference opener.

It wasn’t the football team.

The Kent State volleyball team defeated Akron 3-1 Friday night at the James A. Rhodes Arena in Akron to snap a four-match losing streak.

“Obviously, (the win) feels great,” coach Glen Conley said. “To have it over Akron, our archrivals, is even better – and on their court. It’s just a real good feeling.”

The Flashes endured boos and countless chants of “Kent State sucks” by Akron fans using miniature megaphones and holding signs that said “Beat Kent State.”

“You feed off of just the loudness and the energy that the crowd brings, whether it’s your fans or someone else’s fans,” senior Anne Zakelj said. “You can feed off of that just because they’re so loud and it gets you pumped and ready and excited for the game.

“As far as them actually saying stuff, you block (it) out. You don’t hear what they say, you hardly notice that they’re even there half the time. The only time you notice is when you’re in a time-out and you’re trying to hear the coach say something and you can’t because everyone’s screaming so loud.”

Zakelj said the team “kind of got caught up in the moment” in the first game, which Akron won, 34-32. It was the eighth time in 15 matches that Flashes dropped the match’s first game.

This time, the game was back-and-forth, featuring 11 ties and six lead changes and comebacks at game point by both Akron and the Flashes.

Despite the fact that the team trailed early on, Zakelj said it wasn’t discouraged.

“We all have such faith in our team that losing the match, it didn’t even cross our minds,” she said. “It wasn’t an option. Losing that game made us remember that.”

The memory jog worked in the second game, as the Flashes overcame an early 4-0 deficit to win 30-16.

“After game one, we talked about how we felt like we had the better team,” Conley said. “I think they went out there in game two to prove something, and they did.”

The team continued to prove itself in the third and fourth games, winning those by scores of 30-23 and 30-18, respectively.

Conley inserted several reserves into the team’s rotation during the match, including sophomore setter Katie Veatch, who replaced fellow sophomore Jenny Keck late in the first game and remained in the lineup for the rest of the match.

“I can’t say enough about Katie Veatch and how she got in there and did a great job of setting and settled the offense down,” Conley said.

Conley also praised some other reserves he brought into the lineup: sophomores Lindsay Daniels and Heather Dixon and freshman Kristen Barr.

“(It was) huge, especially a freshman — Barr — coming in there and making a solid contribution,” he said. “Heather Dixon’s first (game) action she’s seen all year long — for her to come in there and on her very first serve get an ace — (she) did a great job of serving for us.

“Daniels, again, stepped up big tonight. It’s one of those things where you don’t know who made the biggest difference.”

The Flashes’ winning this weekend didn’t stop with Akron. Saturday the team traveled to Buffalo and knocked off the Bulls 3-0, sweeping the individual games 30-22, 30-17 and 30-17.

In their quest to win the program’s first-ever MAC title, the Flashes are 2-0 in conference play and 11-4 overall.

“Having a good start — it’s great — it really is,” Zakelj said. “It doesn’t mean anything as far as what the future is, but it definitely helps motivate and keep the morale up and everything.”

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Doug Gulasy at [email protected] .