Volleyball rides momentum into MAC matches at Ohio, Kent State

Volleyball rides momentum into MAC matches at Ohio, Kent State

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AKRON, Ohio – Coming off a milestone weekend at home, Akron will look to continue its success in the Mid-American Conference Friday and Saturday against Ohio and Kent State. Led by the East Division Player of the Week Tina Dimitrijevs, who currently ranks 18th in the nation with her .404 hitting percentage, the Zips will travel to Athens for a 7 p.m. clash with the East's second-place Bobcats. Akron will come back closer to home on Saturday when it takes on Kent State at 7 p.m. in Kent. The match against the Golden Flashes marks the official kickoff for the PNC Wagon Wheel Challenge in 2012-13, giving the Zips their first opportunity to put points on the board for the University of Akron.

Oct. 5-6
Locations: Athens, Ohio; Kent, Ohio
Sites: Convocation Center (13,080); M.A.C. Center (6,327)
The Series: Akron trails Ohio, 24-29; Akron trails Kent State, 32-36
Head Coaches: Ron Arenz (89-113 overall, 53-84 at UA); Ryan Theis (104-46 overall and at OU); Don Gromala (4-12 overall and at KSU)
Akron Assistant Coaches: Aline Dos Santos (Assistant Coach); Jayme Plummer (Assistant Coach); Beth Greulich (Graduate Assistant); Kassie Kadera (Volunteer Assistant)
Livestats: Ohio match; Kent State match
Video stream: Ohio match; Kent State match
Match notes: Click here

The University of Akron volleyball team is in its 39th year of existence ... Head coach Ron Arenz is in his fifth season with the team and holds a 53-84 (.387) record ... Last season the Zips finished with a 4-25 record and were 1-15 in Mid-American Conference play, finishing sixth in the East Division ... Arenz has coached an All-MAC performer in each of his first four seasons at UA.

The Zips are back on the road this weekend with their sights set on Ohio and Kent State. Akron will take on the East's second-place Bobcats on Friday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m., and then come closer to home for a Saturday night match up with the Golden Flashes in Kent. The match against Kent State will be the first chance for any Akron sports team in 2012-13 to earn points towards the PNC Wagon Wheel Challenge.

The Bobcats entered the 2012 season with nine returning letterwinners, including five starters plus their libero. Ohio, led by fifth-year head coach Ryan Theis, posted a 23-10 overall record last season, finishing at the top of the East Division standings with a 13-3 mark. OU received 11 first-place votes in the MAC's preseason poll this year. After being shut out by Bowling Green in their first MAC match of the season, the Bobcats have not dropped a set in their last three, sweeping Miami, Kent State and Eastern Michigan over the course of the last two weeks.

Akron trails the all-time series with Ohio, 24-29, and was shut out both times against the Bobcats in 2011.

Ohio leads the league in conference matches defensively with 19.83 digs per set. MAC East Tri-Defensive Player of the Week, freshman Meredith Ashy, is second in the conference averaging 5.58 digs per set. The team is second in the MAC in blocking, led by Serena Warner who is second herself with 1.58 blocks per set. On the other side of the ball, preseason All-MAC selection and two time conference player of the week Kelly Lamberti captains the Bobcat offense with her 3.87 kills per set from freshman setter Abby Gilleland, who posts 8.88 assists per set.

The Golden Flashes began the 2012 season with five of their starters, their libero and eight letterwinners overall returning. Kent State, led by former Ohio assistant Don Gromala in his first season at the helm, recorded a12-19 record in 2011, finishing 5-11 in the MAC for a fourth-place finish in the East Division. The Golden Flashes were picked to finish fifth in the East in this year's preseason poll. Kent State has only won three sets in its last eight matches, and enters its match with Buffalo on Friday looking for its first set win in the conference.

Akron trails the all-time series with Kent State, 32-36. The Zips split with Kent State last year, winning 3-0 at Rhodes Arena, and falling 3-1 at Kent. The Golden Flashes will host Buffalo on Friday night prior to Saturday's contest with Akron.

The Kent State offense is led by outside hitter Tinuke Aderemi-Ibitola who averages 3.00 kills per set. Junior setter Aleksandra Nowak puts up 8.83 assists per set. Defensively, Hannah Herc tallies 3.92 digs per set, and Kathy Krupa contributes 0.88 blocks.

Akron's five set come-from-behind victory over Miami at Rhodes Arena last weekend marked its 700th victory in the program's 39 year history. It was the 13th win for Akron in the all time series against Miami, and the second victory over the RedHawks since 2003.

Tina Dimitrijevs earned MAC East Player of the Week status for the second time this season and the third time in her career after her historic performances over Bowling Green and Miami. Dimitrijevs far exceeded her season averages, posting 4.88 ills per game over the course of eight sets with a .485 hitting percentage. She entered the weekend needing just 10 kills to reach 900 for her career, and she delivered 39 in two matches. In the win over Miami, the redshirt senior exploded for a career-high 25 kills with only three errors to hit .524. Dimitrijevs has recorded hitting percentages over .400 in nine out of Akron's 16 matches so far this season, and seven out of those nine times have been .500 or higher.

The team has a 4-1 record this year when at least one player posts a double-double. But when three Zips post double-doubles all in the same match, Akron out-hits, out-digs and delivers nearly 20 more assists than its opponent. Against Miami, Morgan Kuhn picked up her fifth double-double of the season with 41 assists and 11 digs, while Alex Cocklin and Ashley Holder each recorded their first. Cocklin came through with 11 kills and 10 digs, and Holder set a new benchmark in her young career with 18 assists and 13 digs. The trio was joined by Chelsea Harvey and Jill Paluch (15 and 16 digs) as the five Zips that finished the match in double figures defensively.

Dimitrijevs was not the only one making a name for herself last weekend. Fellow middle blocker Paiton Twitty was a force for Akron at the net against Miami as well, recording a new career high mark of her own with 14 kills. She also had a hand in four block assists and two solo, contributing to Akron's 11 total blocks in comparison to Miami's nine.

The Zips bumped down to third spot in the East Division standings this week with a 2-2 MAC record, but they still hold the highest overall winning percentage among the teams in the East at .562.

Akron holds one of the top four spots in five out of the seven major statistical categories in the conference overall. The Zips remain first in hitting percentage (.244); second in service aces (1.29); and fourth in kills (13.91), blocks (2.05) and assists (12.86).

Individually, Tina Dimitrijevs still commands the MAC overall with a league-leading .404 hitting percentage, which is also ranked 18th in the country. Paiton Twitty is fourth in the same category with a .314 clip. Setter Morgan Kuhn sits in fifth place with a 10.40 assists per set average. Defensively, Jill Paluch is eighth in the league in digs, averaging 4.34 per set.

The Mid-American Conference is a tough group to hang with, as proven by the first NCAA RPI rankings that were released this week. Eight out of the MAC's 12 teams boast RPI's inside the top-100 in the country (out of 330 Division I teams). Akron has the third-best RPI in the East Division at 172. Bowling Green has the highest ranking in both the East and the West at 68, and Ohio follows at 84.

TOP 100
The NCAA released the national ranking summary this week, for matches through Sept. 30. There are several categories in which the Zips fall into the Top 100 across the country:
As a TEAM...
» Assists Per Set: 56th out of 328 at 12.86 (Leader: Oregon, 14.65)
» Hitting Percentage: 52nd out of 328 at .244 (Leader: Florida, .328)
» Kills Per Set: 48th out of 328 at 13.91 (Leader: Oregon, 15.72)
» Assists Per Set: Morgan Kuhn, 70th out of 250 at 10.40
» Hitting Percentage: Tina Dimitrijevs, 18th out of 250 at .404