After 13 sets, volleyball sweeps first three-game tournament of season

Isabella Schreck, Sports Editor

Coach Haley Eckerman said her blood pressure rose several times during her volleyball team’s weekend tournament.

Each of Kent State’s games went to at least four sets. In the last game of the weekend, three of its five sets surpassed 25 points and had to be won by two.

“It was stressful for me, but it ended up good,” Eckerman said. “One of the girls mentioned in the locker room, ‘Team’s aren’t going to let us get a set in before they say, ‘Okay, we’ll play now,’ so we try to manage what we can manage and then take momentum into it.”

After a 3-0 victory Friday and Saturday at the Marshall Invite — KSU’s first tournament sweep of the season — the Kent State volleyball team is now 7-2. This is the team’s best start since 2014.

Mid-American Conference play has not started yet. Overall, Kent State and Buffalo have the best record in the East. Ball State, picked to finish first in its conference in the preseason poll, is the best in the West at 8-1.

Kent State lost the first set of each game of the tournament in West Virginia.

The Flashes fought their closest battle Saturday night against Marshall. After losing the first set 25-21, the team came back to win by two in the second and third set – scoring 29 and 26 points, respectively. Marshall came back to win 25-23 in the fourth set, with a hitting percentage of .314 to Kent’s .191.

In the fifth set, KSU scored eight of the final 10 points to win the game 15-7. Eckerman said her team is prepared for matches like that.

“The biggest thing in our practice is trying to put them in real-life situations,” Eckerman said. “We practice a drill [called] ‘19 v 21,’ being up 21-19 and being down 21-19. We play a couple games to 15. In practice, it’s just understanding the importance of how we can’t make that many errors in a fifth set because we don’t have a ton of points to get to.”

Three hitters totaled at least 12 kills. Senior outside hitter Savannah Matthews led the game with 17, McGuire had 15 and freshman right side Mia Soerensen hit 12.

Graduate student Erin Gardner was back in the libero jersey for the last six sets of the weekend. She totaled 34 digs as the head back row defender against Marshall. Senior Gracey Jarecke, who was starting libero all last weekend, was libero the other seven sets of the tournament.

In its game against Murray State Friday, KSU came back from a 25-15 loss in the first set to dominate the second set, 25-14, then win the third, 25-19. The Flashes had the better hitting percentage in the fourth set, .326 to .2, but they had go up and win by two – taking the match 27-25.

Graduate student setter Alex Haffner, who totaled 138 assists on the weekend, had her 1,000th career dig Friday. She had 16 digs on the weekend.

The veteran said “it is a fun accomplishment” for her last season on the team. She also reflected on her five years with the program.

“When you get older, you start to look outside your own stats and even your own goals,” Haffner said. “You start focusing more on the team goals. When you help people and be that service leader, you see success for yourself.”

Kent State started slow in Saturday morning’s game against Charleston Southern, starting 0-1 with a 25-13 first-set loss. But the Flashes picked up the momentum in the final three sets, winning each by at least two points: 25-20, 25-20 and 25-23.

Tournament MVP freshman outside hitter Mackenzie McGuire accrued 24 kills in both these games. This season, she has already totaled 138 kills. The most kills from any player last season was 290 by then-senior Melissa Kolurbasi.

“Knowing Mackenzie was the Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year [in 2021], she obviously has the potential to continue to be great,” Eckerman said. “I think for her, she’s starting to get it. We’re still working on creating a better situation for her and her understanding the game more.”

Haffner said McGuire is “awesome.”

“It’s really nice to have a hitter where you can just pass the ball up, and they can do something with it,” Haffner said. “She’s a great teammate and a great person. She brings a lot of energy to our team.”

The Flashes play Cleveland State at 6 p.m. Thursday in the M.A.C. Center. Friday, they travel to Youngstown State.

MAC play kicks off Sept. 23 and 24 against Bowling Green back in the M.A.C.C. The Falcons were picked to win the conference tournament this season.

Eckerman said her team needs to take each match one point at a time.

“We can’t look ahead,” Eckerman said. “That takes the pressure of thinking ‘this ball needs to score everytime I touch it’ off of them. Sometimes, it has to be putting the pressure on the other team to make the error instead of us. The biggest thing is going out and having confidence in themselves.”

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