Volleyball team stumbles into MAC tournament

Mike Ashcraft

Sophomore outside hitter Vaiva Laniauskas attempts to block the ball from freshman left setter Corey Domek during the Flashes 3-0 loss to Bowling Green on Friday. BRIAN MARKS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Jason Hall

Confidence is like an expensive piece of china. If you drop it, it falls to the ground and shatters.

But, unlike china, confidence cannot be easily replaced.

That is the dilemma Kent State volleyball coach Mora Kanim and her team face.

With the Mid-American Conference Tournament set to begin Tuesday, the Flashes (13-15, 6-10 MAC) have dropped six straight matches. The tough times became more frustrating over the weekend, as Bowling Green and Miami swept Kent State at the M.A.C. Center in its final two games of the regular season.

“Everybody’s got their challenge going into this tournament, and our challenge is to cut whatever tailspin we’ve been mired in and rise to the challenge of a one-game season,” Kanim said following Saturday’s loss to the RedHawks.

The Flashes, seeded ninth in the tournament, will travel to Ypsilanti, Mich. on Tuesday to square off with eighth-seeded Eastern Michigan. The Eagles were victorious in the lone meeting between the teams in the regular season, coming away with a sweep on their home court Nov. 4.

The winner of the match will earn the right to face top seed and No. 19 nationally ranked Ohio in the quarterfinals.

Kanim cited Kent State’s loss to Eastern Michigan as the point of the season when her team seemed to stop responding well to adversity. She also noted that finding confidence is in the squad’s hands now.

“It’s really, really tough,” said Sarah Wilber, the team’s lone senior. “I guess you could say we were in this position last year, going through a lot of losses, but this year, somehow it’s different. We’re going to fight as hard as we can to get out of this slump, starting on Tuesday.”

On Friday, Bowling Green dominated Kent State defensively, posting 10 team blocks and holding the hosts to an attack percentage of .093. However, the Flashes helped their demise by committing 28 errors.

Saturday was a different story. After dropping the first game of the match, 30-21, to the RedHawks, the Flashes stayed step-for-step with Miami in the final two games.

Game two was a back and forth battle from the start, as the squads traded blows. Trailing by two, Kent State tied it at 26, thanks to a kill by junior Anne Zakelj and a service ace by junior Laura Jensen. That’s as close as Kent State would get. A service error and two bad sets put Miami in the lead for good, giving a 30-27 victory and a two-game lead.

The third game was just as tight. With the score tied, Miami committed two attack errors and a service error that gave Kent State a 23-20 lead.

The RedHawks battled through their miscues, though, as Emily Schroeder tied it at 24 with a kill and Carli Reihman and Jeanna Staun added two kills apiece, sealing a 30-25 triumph and the sweep.

“I think it’s pretty systematic of what we’re going through right now,” Kanim said about the loss. “If we had more confidence, we would be able to pull away, and, because we don’t, we’re not able to.”

The defeat to Miami was a tough pill for Wilber, who, along with sophomore Vaiva Laniauskas, recorded nine kills to lead the team.

“It was really emotional,” said Wilber of playing her final game in her home gym. “It was tough to go out, and it’s even tougher to go out with a loss. We’re going to still fight, so, hopefully the next match isn’t going to be my last one.”

Anja Knabe-Paulsen, Jensen and Zakelj thanked their teammate for her leadership and support both on and off the court, bringing tears to Wilber’s eyes.

“I don’t know if I could actually describe how good it makes you feel to know you’ve made a difference in somebody’s life or that they even appreciate you being in their life,” said Wilber. “It’s indescribable.”

Contact sports correspondent Mike Ashcraft at [email protected].