Four years, 1,000 kills: Savannah Matthews hits a record-setting performance in Michigan battle

Isabella Schreck, Sports Editor

Like she has done in almost every game this season, senior outside hitter Savannah Matthews swung for the kill and made it in Friday’s volleyball battle.

This hit was “surreal.” Matthews had become the 15th player in program history to totaled 1,000 career kills.

“I couldn’t have ever fathomed getting that many,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my teammates –  they put me in a position to be able to do that.”

Since her freshman year, Matthews has been second in kills or led her team in kills by the end of the season. In 2020, she finished first with 274. Last season, she finished with a career-high 288.

Over her 16 games played so far this season, Matthews has totaled 171 kills.

“When she’s at her best, it helps the team continue towards their best,” coach Haley Eckerman said. “When she’s being confident, she gives our team confidence. When she’s going out and communicating and leading, it allows our team to know we’re in the right headspace.”

Matthews led her team in both of her team’s away weekend games.

The Flashes split the weekend, losing 3-0 to Central Michigan Friday then defeating Eastern Michigan 3-0 Saturday. They are now 11-6 overall and are tied with Buffalo for third in the MAC at 2-4.

Friday, Matthews totaled 13 kills – the highest from either side of the night – and led her team with three blocks. She led her team in aces with one and digs with 13.

Eckerman said her veteran leader’s performance gets stronger week by week.

“We’re getting towards halfway through the season of conference play, and she’s continuing to get better,” Eckerman said. “The more we continue to work on shots, the more things are going to become available for her.”

The Chippewas held the lead through the entirety of the first and second set.

Kent State climbed to a one-point deficit at 10-9 in the middle of the first set, but then CMU went on a seven-point run. This brought the score to 17-10.

Central Michigan won the match 25-15.

The Flashes only totaled seven kills. CMU had 13 in the second set and won 25-12. KSU made seven errors, Central Michigan had none.

The Flashes’ managed their highest hitting percentage of the match with a .159 in the third set. The match went back-and-forth until the Chippewas took the game 25-23.

“We weren’t mindful of what we were swinging,” Eckerman said. “That’s what our struggle has been before I got here, so it’s understanding when we go up and swing and when we need to be smart.”

Eckerman praised her team’s defense, which had out-dug their opponent by at least nine digs on the weekend.

“Our defense is working hard,” she said. “We’re just not putting the ball away.”

Matthews totaled 15.5 of her team’s 40 points – the highest of the night from any player. She said her consistency remains a team effort.

“It’s just showing up and giving my best to my team everyday and then expecting that they’re going to do the same,” she said. “The level that we compete at in practice emulates a game, and it allows us to make game-like decisions. Then, when we get to game time, it’s like that consistency carries over.”

Kent State finished Saturday’s game with a .083 hitting average to Eastern Michigan’s .149. Matthews had 10 kills – the most of either team in this game –  and freshman right side Mia Soerensen totaled seven. Soerensen had the second-most kills Friday.

The Flashes took the first set 25-21 and the second 25-22. They had 12 kills in each match.

Kent State had its first 2-0 lead of the weekend in the third set. The Eagles took over at 6-6 and stayed ahead.

“It’s like when we are up, it doesn’t feel right to them, maybe,” Eckerman said. “So it’s like ‘Okay, well this isn’t supposed to happen.’ We are trying to get them out of that habit where it’s like ‘We should be up, we should be in control.’”

At 15-10, the Flashes scored eight of the next ten points to tie the game 17-17. KSU won 25-23.

“It showed that fight we have in us,” Eckerman said. “We have moments of showing how good we can be. But I don’t know if they know how good they can be.”

Eastern Michigan totaled 15 service errors. Matthews accounted for 11 of her team’s 45 points Saturday.

In four seasons, the outside hitter has seen herself improve on and off the court.

“My freshman year was rough,” Matthews said. “Being so new to the game, I wasn’t at the same level of play that I am now. I’ve become more comfortable in where I am, and on the court, the 1,000 kills transfers to that. Seeing what I’ve been able to accomplish over time has given me more confidence mentally.”

The Flashes are back at the M.A.C. Center against Akron 6 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday. The Zips are 4-14 overall and 1-6 in the MAC. They are on a three-game losing streak.

“We have a lot of family coming up, and it’s a rival game weekend, so it should be really exciting,” Matthews said. “Attendance lately has grown tremendously in the last two to three games than it ever has grown in my whole time being here. Seeing the shift of that has been incredible. Playing in that high-intensity environment, it’s easy to feed off that energy.”

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