Kent State's volleyball team snapped a four-match losing streak with a pair of thrilling five-game home victories last weekend, highlighted by Saturday's 3-2 triumph over rival Akron (25-19, 13-25, 25-16, 21-25, 15-7) at the M.A.C. Center.
The win gave the Flashes their first season sweep of the Zips since 2009 and a full point towards this year's PNC Wagon Wheel Challenge.
"It was a really odd match," said KSU coach Don Gromala. "Once again we came out great in that fifth set, and that's the difference. There's so much adrenaline, especially with this being a rivalry match. Our girls were ready to go. They wanted this really bad."
On a night when the offense was inconsistent the Kent State defense played exceptional, holding Akron to a .083 attack percentage, including .000 in the decisive fifth set. Junior Kaylee Koller and sophomore Sarah Mills both had career nights to lead the defensive effort, as Koller tallied a match-high 30 digs while Mills managed to dig out 19 attempts by the Zips.
"We had a great dig output," said Gromala. "I think that started in the beginning of the match, and we did it in the fifth set when it mattered most."
Playing Akron has brought out the best in junior Tinuke Aderemi-Ibitola this season, as the outside hitter equaled the season-high 15 kills she posted against the Zips back in September. Aderemi-Ibitola shined brightest in the final set once again with six kills.
The Flashes featured a balanced attack for the second night in a row, as sophomore Kelly Hutchison (13) and junior Lauren Engleman (11) also had double-digit kills.
Junior Liz Reikow and sophomore Bridget Wilhelm added nine kills each, and Wilhelm had seven blocks. Aleksandra Nowak showed her versatility with 48 assists and 10 digs for Kent State, the seventh double-double of her senior season.
Kent State defeated Buffalo 3-2 (25-22, 26-24, 14-25, 17-25, 15-11) Friday evening.
Engleman posted a career-high 13 kills to lead the Flashes, followed by Reikow and Wilhelm with 11 each, and Hutchison and Aderemi-Ibitola with 10 apiece. Nowak recorded a match-best 44 assists, and Koller led the defense with 13 digs while Hutchison added 10.
Kent State will look to move closer to securing a spot in this month's MAC Tournament when it returns to action next weekend with matches at Miami and Bowling Green.
MAC scoring leader Jessacca Gironda and Stephanie Haugh were named to the Capital One Academic All-District 5 First Team.
A senior majoring in Business Management with a 3.88 cumulative grade-point average, Gironda was a 2011 Academic All-District Selection. She leads the MAC in scoring with 32 points on 14 goals and four assists, and holds the Kent State record for goals in a career (31). She has tallied seven game-winning goals this year, which ranks third in the record books, and earned the fourth hat-trick in KSU history against Bowling Green earlier this season.
Haugh, a junior Psychology major with a 3.96 cumulative grade-point average, is third on the team in scoring with 12 points on three goals, including one game-winner, and six assists.
Kent State (8-10, 4-1 MAC) had a chance to sweep conference foes during the regular season, but dropped its conference finale 3-2 in double-overtime at Ohio (7-9, 3-2) on Saturday. Still, the Flashes are the sole 2013 Mid-American Conference regular season champions thanks to Central Michigan's loss to Miami, and will have the No. 1 seed in this week's MAC Tournament.
Kent State got on the board first as Sabrina Binder scored eight minutes in on a corner off an assist by Julia Hofmann. Ohio was able to tie things seven minutes later, but Madison Thompson found the back of the net to close out the first half and give the Flashes a 2-1 lead.
With no regular time left on the clock, Ohio was able to score on a corner to send the game into overtime.
Both teams went through the first 15-minute overtime period without a tally. Then, 2:16 into the second overtime, the Bobcats were able to end the game off another corner opportunity.
The MAC Tournament will begin next Friday with No. 2 Miami taking on No. 3 Central Michigan, followed by a rematch of today's game with Kent State as the No. 1 seed and Ohio capturing the fourth spot.
"We are going to be highly motivated going into the MAC Tournament," KSU coach Kathleen Wiler said. "We still have a ton to play for. We are going to get in the zone and get some fire in our bellies and come out and be ready to perform."
On Sunday, Kent State closed the regular season by dropping a 6-0 decision at No. 14 Louisville.
Thompson and Alexis Madeira were honored by the MAC last week.
Thompson, a freshman, was named offensive player of the week after scoring the game-winning goal in a 3-1 victory over Miami. She has 15 points on the season, with nine of those coming in four MAC games.
Madeira was named defensive player of the week after helping KSU hold the RedHawks to three shots on goal.
Kent State competed at the 2013 MAC Championship hosted by Bowling Green on Saturday. The men finished in seventh with 142 points in the nine-team field, while the women garnered 10th place out of 12 teams with 257 points.
The Eastern Michigan men's squad captured its 18th title with 42 points, while Akron (67) was second. On the women's side Miami stole the crown from Toledo, which had won the last three years.
Leading the KSU men's squad was Matt Kahl, who completed the race in 25:15:15 to come in ninth place. Andrew Goodwin placed 22nd in 25:51.
Rachel Slingluff led the Kent State women with a time of 22:30.81 on the 6k course to finish in 35th place.
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