‘Lucky’ Lana Strejcek and other 4+ year players celebrate second-to-last volleyball match


Matthew Brown

The volleyball team gathers for a photo alongside Alex Haffner, Lana Strejcek, Erin Gardner and Danie Tyson, the four seniors graduating this year, following the game on Nov. 12, 2022.

Isabella Schreck, Sports Editor

Lana Strejcek had tears in her eyes after Kent State’s volleyball game against Toledo – but she was not sad over her team’s loss.

Saturday night was the program’s super senior celebration, and it was the middle blocker’s second-to-last game with the Flashes.

“I’m so lucky to have met these girls,” the fifth-year senior said. “They have changed my life completely and made me a better person. This season has just been life changing, and being able to learn more about myself thought the process was really, really great.”

Strejcek joined KSU in spring 2021 after transfering from Charlotte. She led the Flashes with 88 blocks in her first season.

Last year, she sat out for the first half of last season due to an injury. She is second in blocks with 75 this year and fifth in kills with 124.

“I learned to be more open about myself and to use my voice more,” Strejcek said. “I’m more bold and I can be more of a leader. And I inspire people – I didn’t think that I would but that’s what they showed me.”

Kent State fifth-year Lana Strejcek aims a spike around Toledo’s defenders during the game on Nov. 12, 2022. (Matthew Brown)

Her team lost to Toledo 3-2 Friday and 3-1 Saturday in its last weekend competition of the season.

Kent State is 13-15 overall and are tied for ninth in the Mid-American Conference at 4-13. The Flashes do not qualify for the six-team conference tournament starting Nov. 21. Ball State and Bowling Green are tied for first in the MAC at 14-3. Central Michigan and Toledo are tied for fourth at 11-6.

All four of the team’s super seniors are out of eligibility, and all four seniors decided not to come back next season.

Other starters not returning next year are:

  • Graduate student Erin Gardner, who is the third player in program history to have 2,000 career digs. She has played libero in almost all of her games with the Flashes.
  • Senior outside hitter Savannah Matthews, who is second on the team with 237 kills. This season, she earned her 1,000th career kill.
  • Graduate student setter Alex Haffner, who has been the team’s starting setter since transferring from Kansas State in 2018. She earned MAC East setter for the week three times last season and twice this year.
  • Graduate student middle blocker Danie Tyson, who also has over 1,000 career kills. She has started in 23 sets this season and is fourth on the team in kills with 158.

Coach Haley Eckerman said her relationship with the veteran players has helped her in her first year as head coach.

“Over the last couple of weeks, it’s been a lot of, ‘Okay, let’s help you figure out what life after sports is going to be,’” Eckerman said. “Getting to even help them in that sense has been huge for me – just helping them continue to grow and getting to be part of their growth.”

Final weekend series of season

Strejcek led her team Friday against the Rockets with a career-high 16 kills and a career-high-matching nine blocks.

“My confidence has been built through this season,” she said. “I’ve trusted myself in being able to go up on the block and the hit and really use my skills to get the points that I need.”

Freshman middle blocker Sadie Wright, who started both weekend games, was second in kills with nine and second in blocks with four.

“The passes were great,” Wright said. “And of course Alex – I love when she puts up a good ball for me. I’m just glad I could help us and put a few points on the board.”

Kent State graduate student Alex Haffner sets the ball during the game against Toledo on Nov. 12, 2022. (Matthew Brown)

“I was really excited to work hard for my teammates. This last weekend at the M.A.C. is a big moment for them, and I was just really glad that I could help them in any way that I could.”

Kent State maintained the lead almost the entirety of the first set – Toledo only tied up the game at 7-7 and 13-13. The Rockets came close at 20-19, but the Flashes scored five of the next seven points to win the set 25-21.

In the second set, KSU lost its lead at 16-16 and lost 25-21. Toledo controlled the third set and won 25-20.

The Flashes’ largest lead in the fourth set was 16-10, the Rockets scored eight of the next ten points. KSU finished the set with five points in a row to win 26-24.

Toledo took the fifth set 15-11.

“We handled adversity well,” Eckerman said. “After both games, I talked to them about keeping their heads up because [Toledo] was doing everything they could, and they were playing their hearts out because they needed to stay in the top six.”

Matthews was first in kills Saturday with 13. Freshman right side Mia Soerensen had 12, and Strejcek earned seven.

The Flashes started the first set with a 7-1 lead and then held Toledo to two points for nine plays. They won the set 25-10.

But the Rockets came back in the final three sets, winning the second set 25–23, the third 26-24 and the fourth 25-19.

One game left

The Flashes end their season at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Ohio University. The Bobcats, 18-10 overall and third in the MAC at 12-5, defeated Kent State 3-2 Oct. 18.

Wright said her first collegiate season has taught her about the importance of teamwork.

“I’ve learned how hard it is to work for each other,” the freshman said. “In high school and travel, you can get away with being on separate islands sometimes. But in order to be successful, you need to work together and everyone needs to do their part and just have fun together.”

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