Zips Volleyball Ends Season in Battles Against Two Top Teams in MAC

Akron continued to show their fight and resilience, but ultimately fell to Bowling Green and Miami in their final weekend of play for 2017.


A.J. Fagerlin

Akron Volleyball competes against Bowling Green at James A. Rhodes Arena in their penultimate match of the season on Friday, Nov. 10.

By A.J. Fagerlin, Sports Contributor

As they have all season long, the Akron Volleyball team exhibited their incredible heart and fight, competing closely with the best teams that the Mid-American Conference has to offer. The Zips were unable to take a set in their two matches on the weekend against Bowling Green and Miami (OH) but gave them all they could handle in nearly each and every set.

The Zips’ schedule ended up handing them the two teams atop the MAC standings as their final opponents of the 2017 season. Bowling Green and Miami ended the regular season tied for the first place in the MAC with a 13-3 conference record and will be the top two seeds in the upcoming MAC Tournament. Akron did not play like an underdog, though, keeping four of the six sets within three points.

On Friday against Bowling Green, the Zips got off to a bit of a slow start, dropping set one 25-14. The Falcons utilized five different scoring runs of at least three points to grab the set victory.

In the second set, Akron fell behind early but battled back to pull within one point at 19-18. However, a 5-1 Bowling Green scoring run put the Falcons up 24-29. After Akron managed to fight off two set points, the Zips ultimately fell 25-21.

The third set was very competitive, with the advantage going back-and-forth between the teams leading to 13 different tied scores throughout the set. Down 23-22, the Zips utilized two kills from freshman outside hitter Alexis Adleta and a kill from redshirt junior outside hitter Madi Baer to grab a 24-23 lead and set point. After a Bowling Green point tied the score once again, another Adleta kill gave Akron their second set point opportunity of the set. In the end, the Zips could not hold down the powerful Falcons as Bowling Green scored three straight points to take the set 27-25 and win the match 3-0 (25-14, 25-21, 27-25).

With Akron’s offensive leader, junior outside hitter Kayla Gwozdz, not playing while recovering from injury, Adleta stepped into the starting role and paced the Zips with 16 kills on the match. Setter Emily Weigand totaled 33 assists and added an ace and two blocks. Libero Taylor Sharrits led the Akron defense with 12 digs.

In their next match, The Zips faced the top team in the MAC but were not intimidated by the Miami RedHawks on Senior Day on Saturday. Akron fell by a total of just seven points across the three-set match, with Miami winning 3-0 (26-24, 25-23, 25-22).

Not only was it Senior Day, but it was a block party for the Zips and redshirt senior middle blocker Jessica Kloehn on Saturday. Akron racked up 10 blocks compared to just five recorded by Miami, with Kloehn claiming seven of her own. Kloehn, redshirt senior middle blocker Julie Shallman, and senior defensive specialist Aubrey Kozer each started the game, appeared in all three sets for the Zips, and were honored following the match. Kloehn added nine kills, Shallman recorded four kills and two blocks of her own, and Kozer racked up nine digs and a service ace.

In the three tightly contested sets, the Zips managed to outhit the RedHawks as well, recording a .227 hitting percentage whereas Miami hit just .218. Adleta and Baer led the Akron offensive attack with 10 kills apiece, and Sharrits once again led the team with 12 digs. Freshman setter Taylor Kuruzovich took advantage of her time on the court, recording two service aces.

With the two losses on the weekend, Akron’s ledger drops to a final 6-22 overall record and 2-13 in the conference.

Kloehn led the Zips with 101 blocks and an impressive 1.01 blocks per set in her final season in Akron. Shallman finished her Zips career with 34 kills and 20 blocks during her senior season and 70 career total blocks. After walking on in 2014, Aubrey Kozer recorded 476 career digs and 1.69 digs per set in her time in Akron.  

Gwozdz was clearly the go-to on offense for the Zips, leading the team in attacks (899), kills (287), and points (314.5). She also displayed her versatility, totaling 145 digs, 22 service aces, 12 assists, and 11 blocks on the season. Junior defensive specialist Abbey Pawlak finished the 2017 ranking third on the team with 185 digs and 1.85 digs per set. She was also second on the team with 299 service aces on the year and appeared in every set for Akron. Baer was second on the Zips with 216 kills and 2.35 kills per set. Her 41 blocks tied for third best on the team. New to the team this season was junior setter Jelena Slijepcevic, who recorded 14 assists in four sets played before missing the rest of the season due to injury.

Sophomores, outside hitter Elya Karsner and middle blocker Ashley Richardson, were important parts of the Zips offense this season. Karsner recorded 118 kills and 1.79 kills per set in her second season as a Zip. Richardson was second amongst Zips hitters with a .234 hitting percentage and second on the team with 0.59 blocks per set.

Akron relied heavily on their rather large freshman class in 2017. Weigand stepped in as the starting setter as a freshman and recorded 958 assists on the year. Weigand played in all 100 sets for Akron, led the team with 36 service aces, and her 52 blocks were the second most on the team. Taylor Sharrits was also a staple in the Zips lineup in 2017, solidifying herself as the team’s starting libero. Like Weigand, Sharrits appeared in each set of the season, and led Akron with 407 digs.

Adleta showed a lot of promise in 2017, filling in nicely in the starting lineup at times throughout the season (primarily when Gwozdz was out due to injury). She racked up 129 total kills on the year and averaged .70 digs per set. Kuruzovich was mostly utilized for her serving, recording nine service aces on the year for Akron. Outside hitter Shelby Fulmer performed well in limited playing time during her first season as a Zip. Fulmer appeared in just 25 sets for Akron in 2017 but recorded five kills in Akron’s victory over Buffalo on Sept. 28.  

The 2017 Zips volleyball team was incredibly strong. Although it may not be reflected in their record, no one played harder than these girls this season. Often the underdog and with their backs against the wall, the Zips never quit. They competed at an extremely high level every point, every set, every match. Akron and head coach Tom Hanna will look to continue the process and will be back and ready to get over the top next season. Zips volleyball will be back on the court in Fall of 2018.