Mia and Mackenzie do it again: Star freshmen carry volleyball against conference No. 1

Isabella Schreck, Sports Editor

Freshman outside hitter Mackenzie McGuire has out killed every hitter on the conference-leading team this season – and she was the third-highest scoring player against Ball State over the weekend.

“When I was in college, our coach would always say, ‘It’s time to put your big-girl panties on,’ and I think she took some big-girl swings out there,” coach Haley Eckerman said.

She totaled 21 kills on the weekend and leads her team in kills this season with 287. The rookie is tenth in the Mid-American Conference in kills per set with 3.05.

From Ball State, junior outside hitter Cait Snyder had 26 kills and senior opposite hitter Natalie Mitchem had 12 between Thursday and Friday.

Senior middle blocker Marie Plitt leads the Cardinals in kills with 263.

Ball State defeated Kent State 3-0 Thursday and Friday in KSU’s lowest scoring series of the season.

The Flashes are tied for ninth in the Mid-American Conference at 4-11 and are 13-13 on the season.

The Cardinals are first in the MAC at 13-2 and 21-6 overall. Last year, they won the conference title and made it to the second round of the NCAA Division I women’s championship.

“We handled adversity well,” Eckerman said. “They don’t really make a lot of errors – they’re almost perfect. To be able to battle with them the way we did and hold our ground was huge for us.”

Ball State made 18 total errors Thursday — Kent State had 18 attack errors alone that game. The Cardinals had 14 Friday when KSU made 28.

McGuire had nine kills, the second-best from her team that night, and two digs Thursday.

“She adjusted well,” Eckerman said. “Their libero was great, and [Mackenzie] was asking, ‘How can I score? What can I do differently?’ She did just an awesome job at taking feedback and trying to figure out how to make a change and how to be successful.”

She has placed first on her team in kills in seven games this season.

Freshman right side hitter Mia Soerensen led in kills with 11 – the second highest total of her season. Including Thursday, she has led her team in kills in three games this year.

“I had to applaud her in the locker room – she’s one who gets mad when we don’t win,” the first-year coach said. “She wants to figure out how to be better. She’s really starting to understand the game.”

The Cardinals won the first set 25-15 after leading the entire match.

The second set went back and forth. At 14-14, the Flashes tied the game. Then the Cardinals went on a five-point run, later taking the set 25-19.

In the third set, the Cardinals were leading 9-4 until senior outside hitter Taylor Heberle earned a kill of a set from graduate student setter Alex Haffner. Kent State then went on a six-point run to take its first one-point lead of the set. Kent State’s last lead was 11-10.

Ball State won the third set 25-17.

Three KSU players totaled one ace and one block.

McGuire led her team with 13 kills – the highest from either team on the night. She totaled eight digs, which was the fourth-best from her team.

“Her passing was pretty great,” Eckerman said. “That’s one of the things where we’ll sub her out so she can focus offensively. She did a really good job of managing both.”

Eckerman said McGuire has grown from her first leading game against Southern Indiana Sept. 2.  Then, she totaled 16 kills.

“It’s starting to click at the right time,” she said. “I’m excited to get a spring with her and some more time versus two weeks of pre-season training. She’s starting to understand her role and how she can continue to help our team be successful.”

Ball State had the lead in each of Friday’s sets. The first two sets went back and forth until the Cardinals took off at 15-13 in the first set and 12-10 in the second.

Kent State lost both sets 25-16.

The Cardinals were leading 6-1 in the beginning of the third set. Ball State stayed ahead the entire game. Its biggest lead came at 23-15.

Kent State lost the third set 25-18.

“There was fight,” Eckerman said. “There were a ton of moments where I’m like, ‘Man, we’re hanging in there with this team.’ That’s great going forward into the end of the season and then into next season.”

Mitchem and Snyder totaled 12 kills, and the Cardinals earned seven aces with three service errors.

Kent State had only one hitter in double digits and one ace with four service errors.

The Flashes play Toledo at 6 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday in the M.A.C. Center. The Rockets are 16-10 overall and tied for fourth in the MAC at 9-6.

After this weekend, KSU has one game left — at Ohio, which beat the team 3-2 Oct. 18.

“I want them to enjoy it,” Eckerman said. “It’s to have fun playing volleyball and getting them to really play and not putting the pressure on them.”

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