MAC preseason poll no. 1 lives up to the hype as volleyball falls in first consecutive losses of season


Matthew Brown

Kent State graduate student Alex Haffner (right) sets the ball for Danie Tyson (left).

Isabella Schreck, Sports Editor

Coach Haley Eckerman knew her volleyball team’s conference opener against Bowling Green was going to be tough.

The Falcons, who were picked to finish first in the Mid-American Conference East, defeated Kent State in two games over the weekend. Four of the six sets were won by four points or less – two sets went over 25 points.

“We brought the grit,” Eckerman said. “It showed a lot of the fight in us. We had moments of doing great things, and we’ve got to continue those moments.”

The Flashes lost 4-1 Friday and 3-0 Saturday in the M.A.C. Center.

“It gives us a good base for the season,” senior outside hitter Savannah Matthews said. “It’s just a learning experience. We’ve seen our highest peak, but we didn’t hit that peak this weekend, which in a sense is good because we have a whole season left.”

Kent State, now 9-4 overall, is in a four-way tie for third place in the MAC East at 2-0. Ohio, 8-5, and Bowling Green, 7-6, are first at 2-0.

KSU has the best overall record in the East. Going into the weekend, the team had its best record since 2014.

The Flashes have had trouble getting a lead early into their games – going into the weekend, they had lost seven first sets.

“That’s one of those things we’re still trying to figure out,” Eckerman said. “‘How do we implement that into practice? What exactly was it that caused that run of errors?’”

Eckerman said Friday’s game was no exception. The Falcons halted her team to eight points total and held Kent State to a .027 hitting percentage, their lowest of the weekend. BGSU went on a 10-point run in the middle of the set.

“I tell the girls, ‘treat it like we’re in a boxing match,’” Eckerman said. “You want to throw the first punch. You don’t want to keep getting punched. And that’s what it felt like over and over, like we were getting knocked out and there wasn’t any ‘get back up and throw some punches back.’”

BGSU won the second set 25-21. The third set went back and forth until Kent State took the lead at 15-12, but the Flashes allowed the Falcons a six-point run.

Kent State volleyball team members on the sideline celebrate winning a rally. (Matthew Brown)

Playing from behind, now 18-15, Kent State scored six of the next nine points to tie the set 21-21. Bowling Green had the lead again by 24-22, but KSU took the four points to win the match 26-22.

Kent State came out with a 4-0 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Falcons eventually came back to claim the lead. KSU’s freshman outside hitter Mackenzie McGuire tied up the game at 20-20, and it remained a close battle until 26-26. BGSU scored the final two points.

When the scores got tight, freshman right side hitter Mia Soerensen said she tried to stay calm.

“Most errors come about when you stress yourself out,” she said, “so it’s definitely trusting everyone around you still and just playing your game.”

Sophomore outside hitter Kasidy Blumenthal and sophomore setter Kiersten Kraus, who had played for a combined nine sets this season going into Friday’s game, saw action in the third and fourth sets. Blumenthal totaled two service aces, and Kraus had 24 assists on the weekend.

Kent State sophomore Kiersten Kraus sends the ball over the net during the game against BGSU. (Matthew Brown)

Saturday, Kent State lost in three sets – the team’s first three-set loss of the season.

The Flashes were leading 24-22 in the first set, but they blew the lead. BGSU came out with a five-point run to win 26-24. Kent State led the set in hitting percentage, .342 to .238.

Eckerman said this start “felt better” than Friday’s quick first-set loss.

“It feels great, but we’ve got to piece it together more,” Eckerman said. “We’ve got to figure out how to come in with momentum right away.”

Bowling Green led the entire second set, finishing 25-15.

The Falcons were up 23-13, when a service error gave way to Kent State scoring eight of the next nine points. The Flashes held BGSU at 24 points for three serves, but Bowling Green earned a kill to win 25-21.

“That’s that grit and that fight,” Eckerman said. “We’ve got to come out with that energy from the start.”

Matthews led in kills in both matches, with 13 Friday and 10 Saturday. McGuire had the second-most kills Friday, and she and Soerensen tied for second with nine Saturday.

Kent State freshman Mackenzie McGuire lines up with the rest of her team as they wait for the serve. (Matthew Brown)

In her first collegiate year, Soerensen already ranks fourth on her team in kills with 68 and third in blocks with 29.

“I don’t think I did expect this,” Soerensen said. “The team’s been so great, and I’m learning a lot. I’m super excited for the rest of the season.”

Eckerman said this start will help her team going into its second conference weekend at Miami (5-8 overall, 0-2 MAC) Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. The Redhawks were picked to finish fifth in the MAC East preseason poll.

“It was a good time to play them,” Eckerman said. “It showed how good we can be. There’s positives and negatives coming out of it that we can take forward into next weekend.”

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