The Kent State volleyball team opened their series against the University of Miami by sweeping all three sets and winning the first game.
But the Flashes only managed a split on the weekend after losing on Friday 3-1 in a game that saw three sets decided by two points.
Coach Don Gromala said his team took care of critical points Thursday that they couldn’t Friday.
“There was a bit of a lack of focus and misunderstanding on the court,” he said. “There were times we just didn’t do our jobs, and that made it a little too easy for Miami to score points.”
The Flashes fall to 9-4 and into third place in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference. Ohio is 5-2 and .022 percentage points ahead of KSU. Ohio has had six games postponed because of COVID-19 problems.
Miami is 6-6 and is in fourth place in the Mid-American Conference's East division.
On Thursday, KSU won the first set 25-19, but Miami made the next two sets closer. The Flashes won the second 25-22 and the third 26-24.
Junior opposite hitter Melissa Kolurbasi built on her success last week and had a team-leading 12 kills on Thursday along with three aces. She had nine kills on Friday. Kolurbasi had a career-high 20 kills in last Friday’s loss to Bowling Green.
“[Kolurbasi] did a great job seeing things at the net and knowing where to go,” Gromala said. “She knew when to use the block versus when to go and attack the openings in the court.”
Junior setter Alex Haffner said Kolurbasi was “good at going up hard and swinging hard.”
“She’s obviously a big physical hitter and that helps her a lot,” Haffner said. “She just has a good positive energy when she goes up there and is swinging away.”
On Friday, KSU and Miami split the first two sets, the Flashes winning the first 26-24 and the RedHawks winning the second 25-23. Miami had a controlling 25-17 win in the third. The Redhawks would open the fourth with a 5-1 lead, before KSU battled back back to lead 23-21. But the Flashes would lose 27-25.
“Miami’s a good team and they put pressure on us,” Haffner said. “And that caused us to lose our discipline.”
Gromala said he was still happy with his team’s performance on Friday.
“A lot of our players stepped up at the net,” Gromala said. “We got pushed, but we brought it back, and it was neck and neck at the end.”
The Flashes had one of their best weekends of the season in blocking, recording 13 on Thursday and 12 on Friday. Junior middle blocker Lana Strejcek led the way Thursday with five block assists and one solo block. Junior middle blocker Danie Tyson led the team Friday with four block assists.
Haffner said the duo have an “amazing vision.”
“They’re able to read the setter really well,” Haffner said. “They’re really disciplined and are able to get really good touches. The two just keep getting better.”
Gromala said Strejcek and Tyson saw the game really well.
“They were really aggressive and did a great job getting blocks closed that needed to be closed,” he said. “And they took away balls that needed to be in just the right spot.”
Junior libero Erin Gardner missed the series with a knee injury she suffered last week. Gardner had played in every set this season up until her injury.
Gromala said it “sucked not having Gardner out there.”
“She has a great presence and is a hard worker,” Gromala said. “It was a bit of a shock for us not to have that type of teammate and competitor on our side. We’re still trying to figure out how to fill that void.”
Freshman Bryn Roberts started as the team’s libero and had a team-leading 26 digs on Friday. She had nine on Thursday.
Roberts had played in 28 sets this season as a defensive specialist. She had 60 digs in those sets.
Haffner said Roberts did a good job filling in.
“It’s a new position for her so she’s going to keep working and just keep getting better at it.” Haffner said. “She did a good job giving energy to the team.”
Gromala said several players stepped up to fill Gardner’s role.
“There were people being used in different roles,” Gromala said. “For some of them, there was more push and pressure in those roles. But I think we did OK with it, especially for us to be battling with a good team like Miami.”
The Flashes will next play Ball State, who is 6-6 and third in the MAC West, on Thursday and Friday.
“We have a target on our backs,” Haffner said. “And they’re going to come out hard against us. We’ll just have to be prepared for that.”
Jimmy is a sports reporter. Contact him at email@example.com.