‘We deserve this’: Volleyball’s at its best in over a decade entering conference play

Isabella Schreck, Sports Editor

First-year coach Haley Eckerman will lead her volleyball team into Mid-American Conference play with its best starting record since 2008.

“We’ve shown we have fight in us,” Eckerman said. “We’re a team that’s not going to lie down. We’re going to figure out how to battle back.”

The Flashes are 9-2 overall. KSU defeated Cleveland State, 3-0, Thursday and Youngstown State, 3-2, Friday to extend its winning streak to six games. Their next game — Sept. 23 against Bowling Green — kicks off MAC play.

Kent State’s only losses this season came in its first two tournaments. The team fell to James Madison in five sets and Cornell in four.

“We’ve worked really hard, and we deserve this,” graduate student libero Erin Gardner said. “We all put in a lot of hard work this spring, and especially in the preseason. It’s showing on the court.”

Cleveland State, now 3-8, put up a .093 hitting percentage Thursday. KSU had .233.

The Flashes played from behind in the beginning of the first set, until they took off at 10-7 – CSU was still ahead –  to score eight consecutive points. KSU maintained the lead the rest of the set to win 25-23.

Kent State won the second set 25-15, then the third 25-21. This was its second 3-0 win of the season.

Freshman right side Mia Soerensen and senior outside hitter Savannah Matthews led the team with 12 kills. Soerensen totaled two blocks.

“For her, it’s figuring out the game,” Eckerman said. “It’s a lot faster at the college level. The more and more she gets comfortable with that, the better she’s going to continue to be for us.”

KSU never led Youngstown (6-5) in the first set and fell 25-22. Out of their 11 games, the Flashes have lost seven first sets. Of those games, they came back to win five.

“We’ve got to be ready to go right away,” Eckerman said. “We’re trying different things with serve and pass to get them ready to go and high energy, trying to figure out ‘how do we start strong?’”

Kent State came back to win the second set 25-20, and it stayed ahead the entire third set to win 25-20.

The Penguins came out with a 3-0 lead in the fourth set. KSU could not get within one point the entire match, and Youngstown got a 25-16 victory.

The Flashes led the fifth set to finish the match 15-7 and take the game. By the end of the night, they had totaled 37 errors, including 20 kill errors and nine service errors.

“It’s getting them to understand when to be aggressive and when to be smart and when to manage the ball,” Eckerman said. “When we are smart about things and we learn how to side out and go on some runs, the game is a lot easier for us.”

Matthews had the most kills again with 20. Freshman Mackenzie McGuire, last week’s MAC East Division’s offensive player of the week, earned 13. She leads her team in kills on the season with 157.

Senior Gracey Jarecke has played libero in a majority of this season’s games. She has played in 44 sets and made 150 digs.

Erin Gardner, who holds the record for third-most digs in program history, was back again in the starting spot Thursday and Friday.

In her team’s last three-game tournament, the graduate student totaled 51 digs over her six sets played. This week, she made 41 digs between the two days. She has played in 38 sets this season.

Gardner attributed her performance to her teammates.

“It feels good,” Gardner said. “I’ve never felt so supported by a group of girls in my whole life.”

Eckerman said she focuses on the basics with her team so “they can continue to play their best.”

“It’s really been trying to manage the game better,” Eckerman said, “just allowing the girls to understand the game more by adding to the knowledge they already have and helping them become better individually.”

The Flashes face Bowling Green in their first MAC games of the season at 6 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday in the M.A.C Center. BGSU is 5-5 overall and faced three nationally-ranked teams in non-conference play.

The Falcons finished first in the MAC East last year but fell to Ball State in the championships. This season, league coaches picked them to finish first in the MAC East. Kent State was picked third.

“Our focus is to win all the minigames,” Gardner said, “so first to five, first to 10, first to 15. That’s our goal.”

“We’re underdogs. We don’t really have a target on our back. I think everybody will overlook us, and that really gives us a huge advantage to come in and show teams what we’re about.”

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