Two winning challenges, Heberle’s return helps volleyball team’s split of five-set matches

Junior outside hitter Taylor Heberle gets ready to defend against the Buffalo Bulls at the Mac on Saturday, Oct. 23. Photo by Morgan McGrath.

With the score tied 2-2 in the fifth set of Saturday’s volleyball game with Buffalo, referees ruled a blocked shot in bounds on Kent State’s side. Point Buffalo. KSU volleyball coach Don Gromala challenged the call, and it was reversed.

On the next play, a ball hit by KSU’s Jacqlyn Caspers was ruled out of bounds. Gromala challenged again, saying the ball was touched by a Buffalo player. He won again and the Flashes were up 4-2.

A few points later, Buffalo coach Scott Smith challenged a KSU kill that landed in bounds. He lost. Kent State was ahead 7-3.

Those three points made the difference. The Flashes won the set by three points and salvaged a split against the Bulls. Buffalo had won a five-set match of its own on Friday. 

“We created our own luck by how we were executing out on the court,” Gromala said. “The challenges were tough calls, but thankfully the right decisions were made. The more opportunities we create, the more good things will happen.”

KSU is now in sixth in the Mid-American Conference at 5-6 and 10-13 overall on the season. Ohio is in fifth at 6-5 (6-15 overall). The top six teams make the conference tournament next month. Northern Illinois and Akron are tied for seventh at 4-7.

Bowling Green remains in first with 11-0, followed by Ball State at 10-1.

Saturday’s second set marked the return of KSU junior outside hitter Taylor Heberle, who had missed three weeks with an injury.

Heberle played the best four sets in college on Saturday with a career-high 22 kills. She hit six of Kent State’s 15 points in the fifth set. She also scored the last three points of KSU’s second-set win and its last two points in the fourth set.

“A big part of our win was Taylor on the outside and our setter Alex getting her a good ball,” Gromala said. “When the team is back together and playing well, it definitely helps everyone’s performance.”

Middle blocker senior Danie Tyson said Heberle’s return added to the team’s chemistry.

“She stepped in and did an amazing job,” Tyson said. “She really gave us that spark that we needed to win.”

Tyson led in hitting percentage Saturday, hitting .625 against the Bulls.

On Friday, KSU played from behind in most of Friday’s first two sets, losing both 25-22. 

“We weren’t doing our jobs out on the court,” Gromala said. “Buffalo had some people step up.”

The Flashes won the third set 27-25, then went on an eight-point run in the fourth set and won 25-14. 

But Buffalo won the last four points in the fifth set to win 15-11.

Gromala said Buffalo had a different lineup Friday that gave the Flashes problems.

 “They had a very different team than Saturday,” Gromala said. “Their libero was different, their middle hitter was different and their right side hitter was back, which is why we were a bit slower to respond. Even though there were close sets, we were a little caught off guard.”

On Saturday Gromala said, “We were cleaner with our attacking. We took care of the ball better and made better choices.”

Tyson was excited about the team’s play Saturday.

“Saturday’s game was great, especially with how we came back from Friday,” she said. “Friday was a tough loss going into five, but Saturday we really showed that we have a lot of confidence.”

On Friday, Kent State topped Buffalo’s hitting percentage, .236 to .178. Outside hitter junior Savannah Matthews had the most kills at 15. 

KSU and Buffalo both averaged a .235 hitting percentage Saturday.

The Flashes play next at Northern Illinois on Friday and at Western Michigan Saturday. Northern Illinois is 10-11 overall. Western Michigan is 14-8 overall and tied with Toledo for third in the MAC at 7-4.

Tyson said her team remains confident going into the final stretch of regular season matches. 

“Even if we have a tough loss from the first game, we proved that we can definitely bring it back the next day,” Tyson said. “We have the confidence that if we don’t win one set, we will win the next.”

Isabella Schreck is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].