New hitter on the block: Freshman Mackenzie McGuire brings fire to the court

Isabella Schreck, Sports Editor

Mackenzie McGuire’s veteran teammate thinks she’s already a Mid-American Conference threat.

This freshman has played in each game of her volleyball team’s tournaments so far. After her performance this weekend, the outside hitter is even leading the pack.

“She is this fiery little freshman,” graduate student middle blocker Danie Tyson said. “The MAC is going to have some rude awakenings this season and the seasons to come. It’s going to be amazing.”

At the Kent State Invitational Friday and Saturday, McGuire earned 49 kills for 129 attempts – each total the highest of any KSU player at the tournament. She hit at least 15 kills per game, leading her team to a 2-1 finish.

Outside hitter Mackenzie McGuire hits the ball back over the net as Cornell University, the opposing team, sets up a block. McGuire led her team with 15 kills during Saturday’s morning game. (Asha Blake)

The Kent State volleyball team tied with Cornell for first place at the three-team competition.

In her first-ever collegiate tournament Aug. 26 and Aug. 27, McGuire totaled 26 kills over three games.

Coach Haley Eckerman said she saw a new side to the freshman this weekend.

“I’m happy it started to click,” the first-year head coach said. “She was overthinking a lot last weekend and in practice the last couple of weeks, so getting her to understand her role on this team and how well she could manage the game is huge for her.”

After its first two tournaments of the season, the Kent State volleyball team is now 4-2 overall.

McGuire and her team came out with a 3-0 victory in their home-opening game Friday against Southern Indiana, which managed only 21 kills for a hitting percentage of .030 to KSU’s .198.

About 400 people came to the Flashes’ home-court debut. For McGuire, who started in all three games at the M.A.C. Center, the gym’s atmosphere added to her game.

“The energy on the court really keeps me going,” McGuire said. “All the sets were very good, and my team talking to me about what’s open and where to swing helped as well.”

Saturday’s matches were not as quick as Friday.

In their morning game against Cornell, the Flashes managed to keep the higher hitting percentage but still fell to the Big Red 3-1.

Senior Savannah Matthews, a front-row regular since 2019, did not play in every set Friday night and Saturday morning. Senior Taylor Heberle saw more time as outside hitter, totaling 17 kills over the two games.

Kent State Women’s Volleyball players Taylor Heberle (left) and Danie Tyson jump in the air to block a hit from the Cornell University team. The Kent women played an intense game but were beaten 3-1. (Asha Blake)

“Each day, we go on with practice and see how people are doing,” Eckerman said, “and Taylor did a really good job this week and earned that spot. Then, Savannah was ready to go back in and do her job too.”

Matthews was back in all four sets of Saturday night’s game. She accrued 16 kills.

In their last game against Oakland, the Flashes came out with a strong 25-15 finish to the first set. Then, the Grizzlies started to pick up speed.

The second set still allowed for a 25-21 Kent victory, but Oakland gained momentum in the third set and maintained the lead the entire battle.

“We got a little lackadaisical and let them take control instead of doing our job and putting the pressure on them,” Eckerman said. “We allowed ourselves to make more errors and play to not lose instead of playing to win.”

Coming off a 25-23 loss, Kent brought a new dynamic to its fourth set.

“The goal was staying level-headed and then working on improving and not being an emotional roller coaster,” Eckerman said. “I challenged them to stay high energy the whole time.”

The Flashes maintained a nine-point lead for most of the match. While the Grizzlies tried to close the gap, KSU took the final set 25-18.

For Tyson, staying calm was key to holding off Oakland’s building offense.

“We unfortunately like to put a lot of pressure on ourselves,” Tyson said, “so we really tightened up and said ‘No more unforced errors, We need to hone in, go head-to-head and play on our side.’”

For the second consecutive tournament, senior Gracey Jarecke played libero in each match of the weekend. This is the second time since early last season that graduate student Erin Gardner – who holds the third-highest record for digs in program history – did not start in the position.

Jarecke totaled 48 digs and led her team in digs in the weekend’s first two games.

The senior could see more time as the starting defender moving forward.

“Gracey’s numbers are so consistent, and the biggest part of the libero is being consistent,” Eckerman said. “We’re working on getting her to be more urgent and aggressive and taking more control over the back row.”

Defensive specialist Gracey Jarecke digs the ball as the other Golden Flash players watch and get into position to hit against Cornell. Jarecke finished the four-set game with 16 digs. (Asha Blake)

The Flashes, like last week and even last season, still struggled with unforced errors. Between all three games, 25 points were lost from service errors.

Eckerman said this 2-1 weekend proves there is still room for improvement.

“It showed the things we still need to work on,” Eckerman said. “The biggest [thing] is managing those errors and putting them in more situations in practice where if the ball isn’t a great set, they doing a better job at managing that.”

Next up: the Marshall Invite in West Virginia. KSU plays Murray State Friday at 3 p.m., then Charleston Southern at 10 a.m. and Marshall at 6 p.m. Saturday.

This will be the Flashes’ last tournament before MAC play. Only two games after the invite separate them from the conference opener against Bowling Green, who was picked to finish first in the MAC.

Going into her third tournament representing Kent State, Eckerman said she knows her team can go far.

“When we are in control of the game, and we’re passing well and can give all three options as hitters and move the offense around,” Eckerman said, “it’s really hard to defend us.”

Isabella Schreck is sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].