After splitting their weekend against Miami, the Kent State volleyball team no longer qualifies for the six-team Mid-American Conference tournament starting Nov. 21.
Kent State is now tied with Central Michigan for seventh in the MAC at 6-11 and 11-18 overall. KSU needed to win its last three games to qualify for the tournament.
“Every match has been a battle this season,” coach Don Gromala said. “No matter what the outcome has been.”
Northern Illinois (9-8 MAC, 15-12 overall) also needed to lose all three of its final games for Kent State to qualify. The Huskies swept Buffalo this weekend to secure sixth place and the final spot in the MAC tournament.
First place Ball State clinched the MAC regular-season title after beating Eastern Michigan Saturday. The Cardinals are 26-3 overall and 16-1 in the MAC.
Bowling Green takes second at 15-2 in the MAC. BG won the MAC East Division title last weekend and has a first-round bye in the tournament.
Western Michigan and Ohio are tied for third in the MAC at 11-6. Toledo takes fifth place at 10-7 in the MAC.
The Flashes saw their fifth consecutive loss Friday.
Kent State started off strong in the first set, tying the game at 4-4 and never allowing Miami to take a lead, winning 25-15.
The second set was back-and-forth until the Flashes took over at 12-11 and maintained the lead to win 25-20.
Miami won the third and fourth sets 25-22 and 25-21. Offensively, Kent State had its worst hitting percentage of the night, hitting .152 in the third set.
The fifth set was tied up 15 times, forcing the Flashes into five win-by-two scenarios until an attack error from redshirt junior middle blocker Jacqlyn Caspers and a kill from Miami ended the night 22-20.
“It was a little bit of a roller coaster,” redshirt senior setter Alex Haffner said. “But we played hard all weekend.”
KSU ended its losing streak Saturday, winning the match in four sets.
Gromala said “the difference was the little things” when comparing the team’s performance Saturday to Friday.
“It started with our serve and changing things up,” Gromala said. “We found some vulnerabilities in Miami’s serve-receive which helped us neutralize their offense. Our defense then picked up with our digging, and we made a lot of plays that we weren’t making Friday.”
The Flashes totaled 10 aces Saturday and only six Friday.
Junior outside hitter Taylor Heberle led the team in kills both days, totaling 21 kills on Friday and hitting .320 against the Redhawks. She also had the most attack attempts of her career with 50 attempts.
Saturday, Heberle had 16 kills and led the team with a .314 hitting percentage.
The Flashes won the first set 25-19. It was the first time they won the first set of a match since Oct. 15 against Akron.
“We made a statement,” Gromala said. “We’re really happy as a staff with the way the team came out after losing a tough battle Friday.”
The Redhawks controlled the entire second set, stopping the Flashes at 25-14. KSU fought back and narrowly won the third set 26-24 after maintaining the lead at 9-8.
After tying the fourth set 1-1, Kent State stayed at least one point ahead for the rest of the set and finished out the match 25-19.
“To get a win after competing so well Friday and not getting it was great,” Gromala said. “We came back and said ‘Hey this is our court, we’re the better team.'”
Haffner returned to the court Friday, recovering from a head injury after colliding with a teammate during an Oct. 30 match against Western Michigan.
“I feel a lot better,” Haffner said. “It’s fun to be out there with my teammates and compete. It sucked to miss that opportunity.”
Haffner set 54 assists Friday and added two aces and nine digs. She totaled 42 assists Saturday and passed 12 digs.
“It’s great to have her back,” Gromala said. “Alex did a great job of getting the hitters in good positions, and towards the middle of the match she started to move them around more which created some openings.”
The team’s final game of the season is Wednesday against Ohio but Haffner will return next season after qualifying for an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19.
“I am very excited for the opportunity to keep competing with these girls,” Haffner said. “They’re great.”
The Flashes play Ohio on their senior day Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center.
“It’s going to be a big game,” Haffner said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun competing, and it will be our last chance this season so hopefully we will go at it hard.”
Gromala said his team remains confident going into its final game of the year.
“We’re excited to play Ohio again after the battle we had there,” Gromala said. “We’re going to be ready.”
Isabella Schreck is a reporter. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.