The Kent State volleyball team went into the fourth set of the game Thursday down 2-1 and in danger of losing the fourth game of its last five.
The Flashes proceeded to win a dominating set, 25-14, and sent the game to a back-and-forth fifth set where they edged Ball State 17-15.
“We didn’t start off very well,” coach Don Gromala said. “But we started having great executions at critical moments. Our blocks started getting set, we got some great touches and started putting pressure on their hitters.”
Junior middle blocker Danie Tyson said the players knew they could do better.
“We just looked at each other and said, ‘Hey guys, we got to get it together,’” Tyson said. “And then people started making some great plays and that gave us a spark.”
On Friday Kent State lost in the first set 25-18, then won the next two by six and two points. KSU would win the next set and the series 25-16.
The Flashes are 11-4 and in second place in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference. The Cardinals are 6-9 and in fourth place in the West Division.
Gromala said the team “got to the right place at the right time.”
“We did a great job of being really resilient and determined to win some really important points,” Gromala said. “Our defense basically made their hitters non-existent.”
The Flashes defense held BSU to a .183 hitting percentage on Thursday and a .102 percentage on Friday. In two sets KSU forced the Cardinals into a negative hitting percentage.
Tyson said blocking and backcourt defense were key.
“Our players did a great job setting up the block and then closing on it,” she said. “And our backcourt did a great job getting behind the blocks, getting those digs and making it hard for Ball State to score anything.”
KSU’s offense struggled with hitting as well, being held to a .199 hitting percentage Thursday and a .194 percentage on Friday.
Gromala said the offense was out of sync at times.
“We were out of rhythm in a lot of the decisions we were making,” Gromala said. “But the Cardinals have a great defense. And we had some people come in and make big plays for us.”
Tyson had 14 kills on Thursday and 10 on Friday. She led the team both days in hitting percentage with .345 on Thursday and .450 on Friday.
“She was in a good rhythm with her incredible setter,” Gromala said. “And Friday might have been the highest I’ve ever seen her jump up. She was hitting some incredible comeback shots.”
Tyson also had nine blocks and nine digs over the two games.
Tyson said her setter and fellow hitters helped her out tremendously.
“They were doing a great job giving me amazing passes,” she said. “I got a lot of help to enable me to see the court and do what I needed to.”
Redshirt junior setter Alex Haffner had a season-high 59 assists and 19 digs on Thursday. She had 43 assists and 10 digs on Friday. She also had eight kills. She came into the series ranked 135th in the country in assists per set with 11.24.
Junior middle blocker Lana Strejcek had 20 kills over the two days along with 10 blocks, three of them solo.
For the second series in a row the Flashes were without junior libero Erin Gardner, who is sidelined with a knee injury. Gardner had played in every set this season up to her injury.
Freshman Bryn Roberts made her third and fourth start at libero. She had 25 digs on Thursday and 16 on Friday.
Gromala said Roberts is taking the situation in stride.
“She doesn’t hold back,” he said. “Teams serve at her because she’s a freshman, but she’s a great passer at the same time. There may be some inconsistency at times, but we haven’t missed a beat with the way she’s producing.”
On Tuesday, Kent State plays Ohio University, which is 6-5 and in third place in the East. The Bobcats have had six games postponed because of COVID-19 issues this season.
The Flashes lost to Ohio in five sets in the first round of the 2019 MAC tournament.
Gromala said the team is determined to come out strong.
“Ohio is going to be gunning at us for a chance to be back in the tournament,” he said. “And we want to be able to take care of our own destiny and control as well. We’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”
Jimmy Oswald is a sports reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.