Impressive starts to the 2013-14 campaign have landed both the Kent State men's and women's golf teams among the nation's Top 25.
Both squads were listed among the elite when the first Golfstat rankings were released on Wednesday, as the men's squad was ranked No. 17 while the women's team checked in at No. 23.
The women's team immediately proved worthy of its No. 23 ranking by capturing its second team title in as many starts last weekend at the Nittany Lion Invitational. Junior Jennifer Ha also earned her second straight medalist honor to open the season.
"I think being ranked No. 23 is a good start," said first-year KSU women's golf coach Greg Robertson. "It's a testament to how hard these girls have been working and what they are capable of doing. Certainly, the end of the year is where you want to be ranked high, but this is a good indication of what we are capable of doing. The goal is to keep getting better and to move up the rankings. We've come a long way from where we were ranked at the end of last year, though, and that is good."
The KSU women's team won the Mid-American Conference but was not ranked last season.
Meanwhile, the men's squad followed its third-place finish in the season-opening Gopher Invitational with a second at last week's Windon Memorial.
"It's nice to have both teams in the Top-25," said KSU director of golf and men's golf coach Herb Page. "For the men, I'm proud to have a Top-20 ranking this early in the season. We thought our preseason ranking was a little bit high. But with a second and a third in two tournaments with very good fields, we are off to a very good start. We had opportunities to win both tournaments, but those were two good, high finishes. The schedule gets nothing but tougher from here, and we have some things to work on that we think will get us even better."
Kent State actually led by three shots heading into the final round of the Windon Memorial Classic at Knollwood Club near Chicago. But after shooting 7-under par in the first two rounds, the Flashes slipped to 6-over in the final round and lost to host Northwestern by three.
"No excuses. We battled to the end and Northwestern just beat us," said Page. "It's frustrating when you get that close, but we just made some mistakes on the back nine. Sometimes you have to step back when you lose like this and take a look at the positives. The good news is that we beat a bunch of good, nationally-ranked teams, including Arkansas, and a lot of teams from the Big Ten. We also found some depth."
Seniors Kyle Kmiecik (71-69-73-213) and Taylor Pendrith (70-71-72) led the way for Kent State, both finishing tied for fifth place individually at 3-under par. Sophomore Kody Fry (71-73-74-218) finished in a tie for 19th place at 2-over for the event, while senior All-American Corey Conners (71-78-75-224) struggled to a tie for 40th place at 8-over.
On the women's side, the Flashes shot 3-over 291 on the final day to finish the Nittany Lion Invitational at 9-over par, four strokes better than runner-up Yale.
Ha shot a final round 2-under 70 to end the tournament at 4-under 212, while teammate Josee Doyon was second at even-par 216.
"They played hard all the way until the end," said Robertson. "That's one thing about this team right now that I'm really happy about, they don't quit. As far as Jennifer, I'm so proud of her. The caliber of golf she's playing right now is incredible."
Kent State (7-7, 1-1 MAC) opened the MAC season with road victory over arch-rival Akron on Friday, then fell at Buffalo on Saturday.
The Flashes used a dominant hitting performance in the decisive fifth set to defeat Akron 25-20, 25-12, 18-25, 21-25, 15-9 and notch their first four-match winning streak since 2009.
Junior Tinuke Aderemi-Ibitola put the exclamation mark on her season debut with a thunderous kill in the fifth set. Aderemi-Ibitola logged kills on all four of her attacks in the set and added a solo block.
Aderemi-Ibitola led the Flashes with 15 kills, while junior Liz Reikow had 13, and Bridget Wilhelm and freshman Bianca Cifaldi added 10 apiece. Senior Aleksandra Nowak recorded a season-high 50 assists, and senior Hannah Herc led the defense with 18 digs.
For the first time this season, Kent State lost a match after taking the first set as the Flashes were defeated by Buffalo 3-1 (25-20, 23-25, 24-26, 20-25).
One night after matching her career-high with 13 kills against rival Akron, Reikow topped that with 15 kills and a .583 attack percentage. Sophomore Kelly Hutchison led the Flashes with 17 kills while hitting .410, Nowak had 56 assists and 14 digs, and Herc piled up 29 digs.
Following a perfect 3-0 record and team championship at the Golden Flashes Classic this past weekend, Kent State had three players recognized with MAC East Division Player of the Week honors.
Herc was named Defensive Player of the Week and Wilhelm was named Offensive Player of the Week, while Nowak was named American Volleyball Scouting Report Global Player of the Week.
It was a memorable weekend for Herc, who was named both Most Valuable Player and Top Defensive Player of the Golden Flashes Classic. In the weekend finale against Illinois-Chicago Saturday evening she recorded the 1,000th dig of her career and finished the match with 19 digs to rank ninth in Kent State history (1,009).
Wilhelm hit .512 and averaged 2.36 kills per set. The sophomore middle blocker had not only the best offensive performance of her career, but one of the best in Kent State history, against Eastern Illinois. In the Flashes' four-set victory, Wilhelm posted a career-high 16 kills on only 20 attempts for a .700 attack percentage, which ranks as the fourth-best performance in program history and the top individual mark since 1996.
Nowak, a native of Damnica, Poland, had her best weekend of the season, averaging 12 assists and 2.64 digs per set to earn all-tournament team accolades.
The Flashes slipped to 4-7 on the year after dropping three one-goal games during the week.
Lock Haven (8-2) scored the game's only goal in overtime to take a 1-0 victory over the Flashes on Sunday.
Kent State led host Lock Haven in shots 11-10, but Lock Haven was able to find the net 2:41 into the extra period to walk away with the win. Kent State freshman goalkeeper Andrea Rinehart had her first taste of collegiate competition, playing every minute in goal and making five saves.
The Flashes fell 3-2 to St. Francis (3-3) on Saturday at Lock Haven, and also suffered a 4-3 setback to visiting Ohio State (3-5) last Tuesday. They will begin MAC play at home on Friday, hosting Missouri State on Homecoming weekend.
Kent State recorded the second-best GPA for a Division I softball program during the 2012-13 academic year, and had 16 players named 2013 National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America Scholar-Athletes.
"I am so proud of this accomplishment. It shows the commitment that our players have made to both academics and athletics," said KSU coach Karen Linder. "I want to thank Angie Hull and the academic support staff for the fantastic job they have done in helping our team reach this high academic standing."
Representing Kent State were Lauren Balodis, Nicolette Cregan, Michele Duffy, Alyssa Frankenfield, Jessacca Gironda, Emma Johnson, Chloe Kesterson, Lauren Kesterson, Caitlin Kilbane, Kimberly Kirkpatrick, Abbey Ledford, Lauren McNeil, Kimberly Morgason, Danielle Ramos, Shelbi Tilton and Erika Warren.
Kent State had a team GPA of 3.66 during the 2012-13 academic year.
Senior Jessacca Gironda's hat trick led Kent State (6-4, 1-1) to its first MAC victory, a 5-1 triumph over visiting Bowling Green (0-8, 0-2) on Sunday.
Gironda also assisted on Jaclyn Dutton's first goal of the season, while junior Stephanie Haugh added a goal for KSU. Gironda leads Kent State in scoring with 15 points on six goals and three assists.
The Flashes dropped their MAC opener to Central Michigan (1-7-1) by a 1-0 count on Friday at Zoeller Field.
Despite the Flashes dominating the Chippewas in shots (21-7) and in corner kicks (10-4), Central Michigan was able to gain a one-goal lead in the first half and defend its goal for the remainder of the game to come away with the victory.
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