Kent State Volleyball’s Resiliency On Display In Thrilling Five-Set Win Over South Florida
Golden Flashes drop competitive first two sets before rallying to defeat Bulls in finale at The Courtyard Midtown Classic
RALEIGH, N.C. – One set from being swept for the second time in as many matches on Saturday and going winless for the weekend, the Kent State volleyball team reversed its fate for a thrilling 3-2 (24-26, 24-26, 25-22, 25-23, 15-13) comeback victory over South Florida, Saturday (Sep. 1) evening in its final match of The Courtyard Midtown Classic at Reynolds Coliseum.
Sophomore outside hitter Tinuke Aderemi-Ibitola (Ellicott City, Md.) and freshman outside hitter Kelly Hutchison (Columbus, Ohio) turned in the best performances of their young careers. Aderemi-Ibitola had a match-high 21 kills, surpassing her previous single match career-high of 15, and nearly matched her career mark with 13 digs.
"Tinuke really stepped up and played a great match from start to finish," said first-year head coach Don Gromala. "Her defense was great and she took some pressure swings for us at the end."
Hutchison, who led the Golden Flashes (2-4) in kills in each of the first five matches of the season, set career-high marks with 19 kills and 11 digs.
"Kelly has been solid for us throughout these first two weekends," Gromala said of his freshman. "She took some big swings for us early to keep us in the match and Tinuke took over from there."
Junior setter Aleksandra Nowak (Damnica, Poland) had one of her better outings of the young season. She tallied a season-high 49 assists and led the Flashes with 14 digs.
The first two sets of the match resembled each other, ending in identical 26-24 losses for Kent State. Trailing 11-10, the Golden Flashes allowed a 4-1 run to fall behind 15-11. They continued to battle, eventually taking a 21-20 lead. That would be the last lead of the set, however, for the Flashes. Facing match point, Hutchison delivered her eighth kill of the set to even the score at 24-24. A kill by South Florida was followed by a Kent State attack error to conclude the set and give the Bulls a 1-0 advantage.
Kent State took a 10-5 lead to open the second set, but South Florida rallied to tie the set at 14, 15, 17, and 18 before going ahead 23-18. A kill by freshman outside hitter Morgan Semmelhack (Elmhurst, Ill.), consecutive service aces by junior defensive specialist/libero Hannah Herc (Eden, N.Y.), and another kill by Semmelhack pulled the Golden Flashes to within a point at 24-23. An attack error by the Bulls on the next point tied the set. Sophomore outside hitter Valerie El Houssine delivered a kill and an attack error on consecutive points as the set remained tied 24-24. The Bulls got a kill from junior middle blocker Andrea Rodriguez Gomez to go ahead 25-24 and an attack error by Hutchison gave them a 2-0 lead.
The Flashes trailed 2-0 to begin the third set and could have started packing for the journey back to Ohio. Instead, they took the next five points and nine of the next ten overall. Kent State led by as many as eight points in the set at 15-7. The Golden Flashes had to work to close the set after allowing their foes to come within three points at 23-21 and 24-22. Hutchison and sophomore middle blocker Liz Reikow (Holland, Mich.) combined for a block end it and keep Kent State alive. Aderemi had seven kills in the set.
A slow start to the fourth set and the Golden Flashes trailed 14-10 before three consecutive points made it 14-13. Three of the next four points went to the Bulls, but Kent State rallied with seven straight points for a 21-17 advantage. The Flashes appeared to be in control with a 24-21 lead, but lost the next two points. Hutchison delivered a kill on the next point to force a deciding fifth set.
Kent State opened the final set with a 4-2 lead, but dropped three straight points to fall behind 5-4. The Flashes took reeled off six straight points to take control with a 10-5 lead. After splitting the next six points, a kill by Aderemi gave the Flashes match point at 14-8. Five straight points by South Florida made it 14-13 and forced Gromala to call timeout. His squad responded by closing out the match on the ensuing point on a kill by Aderemi, who delivered kills for the Flashes' final three points.
"We could have won either of the first two sets to start match, but we didn't," Gromala said. "Our team really showed its heart to defeat a good South Florida team. We talk about handling those 22-all moments and we were able to come out on top, which is a testament to our team's hard work over the last few weeks."
El-Houssine led the way for South Florida with 17 kills in addition to 17 digs. Ciara Brown also recorded double digit kills with 10. Natalia Soares had a team-high 28 assists and Claudia Cabrera tallied a match-high 22 digs.
Kent State comes home to the M.A.C. Center for three matches as it hosts the Kent State Mizuno Classic next weekend (Sep. 7-8).