Volleyball Spike KSU Game

Junior outside hitter Savannah Matthews spikes the ball against Ball State on Friday, Sept. 24. The game was home at Kent State. 

On Friday, the Kent State volleyball team lost the first two sets, then fought off two match points in the third and beat the team with the best record in the league in five sets.

But the next afternoon, the Flashes struggled through their worst defeat of the season, falling to Ball State in three lopsided sets. 

Coach Don Gromala called Friday’s win “just an incredible match.”

“We did some good things offensively and made some good decisions, which got them off balance,” Gromala said. “Saturday was a different story. They were on top of us defensively, and we came out flat.”

KSU ended its first Mid-American Conference weekend tied with Ohio for second in the MAC East. Buffalo and Bowling Green won their first two games. Western Michigan also swept its opening weekend in the West Division. 

Kent State is 6-8 overall on the season. Ball State is 11-3 and tied for second in the West.

Friday’s game was one of the most exciting games at the M.A.C. Center in recent years.

The Flashes trailed in the third set 25-24 and 26-25 before winning the last three points in the set.

“The third set was pretty impressive back-and-forth,” Gromala said. “Coming out with that win was huge for us, and it was a big momentum swing that carried over for the rest of the game.”

Kent State won the fourth set 25-19. In the fifth set, they fought off yet another match point and won 17-15. 

But on Saturday, they never scored more than 15 points in any set. They lost their first two matches Friday 25-14 and 25-15 and the third 25-10. The third set was the team’s lowest scoring this season. 

“We came in pretty focused,” Gromala said. “But we were on our heels with our passing, which made it hard on our pin attackers. We knew Ball State was good and very disciplined. They came out and played well.”

Senior middle blocker Lana Strejcek and senior libero Erin Gardner played for the first time this season after injuries. 

Strejcek played in the third, fourth and fifth sets Friday, her first game this season because of an injury. She had six kills and four blocks. Strejeck also played in the second and third sets Saturday.

Gardner played all sets Friday and Saturday, her first games back since a knee injury in the middle of last season. She led the team in digs Friday with 25 and Saturday with 12.

“It’s exciting to see them with the work that they put into being healthy, but we can’t rely on the fact that they’re back to win,” Gromala said. “We’ve only had a couple weeks of practice with them, so now we’ll have some more time to work with them.”

Erin Gardner Kent State Volleyball

Senior defensive specialist Erin Gardner gets ready to serve against Ball State on Sept. 24 at Kent State. 

The Flashes hit .251 Friday and .113 Saturday. Senior middle blocker Danie Tyson led the team in hitting percentage Friday with .435 and .348 Saturday. 

Junior outside hitter Savannah Matthews hit .412 on Friday. She led the team in kills with 27, a new career high, and hit 10 more Saturday. Matthews’ previous high in kills was 22, most recently in February against Bowling Green. 

“Producing keeps me going because when I’m producing,” Matthews said, “I’m able to keep my momentum rolling. My teammates also fuel me. The energy I get from them keeps me going through long games.” 

Saturday’s game was dedicated to Suicide Prevention Month, an important cause for Matthews.

“On my shoe, I wrote, ‘I play for…,’ so when I get stressed out, I remember to look down,” Matthews said. “The women in my family struggle with depression. Since the game was for suicide prevention, I was playing for my mom, my grandma and me.”

The Flashes play at Toledo, who has the second-best record in the MAC at 10-4, Friday and Saturday.

Isabella Schreck is a reporter. Contact her at ischreck@kent.edu.

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