Volleyball enters MAC West battles this weekend

Volleyball enters MAC West battles this weekend

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AKRON, Ohio -- Akron Volleyball will continue its road swing when it visits two NCAA Tournament teams from 2011. The Zips dip into the MAC West Division this weekend, traveling to Western Michigan on Friday (7 p.m. ET) and Northern Illinois on Saturday (8 p.m. ET). WMU and NIU are in the top half of the West Division standings with identical 4-2 conference records. The Zips will look to snap an eight-match skid against NIU that dates back to 2004.

Oct. 12-13
Locations: Kalamazoo, Mich.; DeKalb, Ill.
Sites: University Arena (5,421); Victor E. Court (800)
The Series: Akron trails Western Michigan, 11-18; Akron trails Northern Illinois, 8-19
Head Coaches: Ron Arenz (90-114 overall, 54-85 at UA); Colleen Munson (223-180 overall, 171-81 at WMU); Ray Gooden (197-146 overall and at NIU)
Akron Assistant Coaches: Aline Dos Santos (Assistant Coach); Jayme Plummer (Assistant Coach); Beth Greulich (Graduate Assistant); Kassie Kadera (Volunteer Assistant)
Livestats: WMU match; NIU match
Video stream: WMU match (subscription required); NIU 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 54-85 (.388) 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' road swing continues this weekend when they dip into the MAC West Division. Akron will face two teams in the top half of the West standings in Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. UA travels to WMU friday, Oct. 12 for a 7 p.m. contest, then to NIU Saturday, Oct. 13. The match against the Huskies is set for an 8 p.m. ET start time.

The Broncos entered the 2012 season with eight letterwinners, including five starters plus their libero, returning from a team that competed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Western Michigan, led by eighth-year head coach Colleen Munson, posted a 24-9 overall record last season, finishing second in the West Division standings with a 12-4 mark. WMU received 10 first-place votes in the MAC's preseason poll this year. The Broncos are coming off a 3-0 loss to Marquette on Tuesday, and narrowly missed spoiling Bowling Green's unbeaten conference streak last weekend, losing 3-2.

Akron trails the relatively young series with Western Michigan, 11-18. The Zips will be looking for their first win over WMU since the 2009 season, suffering shutouts in each of the last two years.

Western Michigan sits in first place in the MAC overall offensively, averaging 14.21 kills per set. Preseason All-Conference selection Terin Norris fuels the fire with a league- leading 11.68 assists per set. In conference matches, Richelle Ranney and Jessica Brown are second and fourth in hitting percentage at .363 and .321. On the other side of the ball, Lena Oliver spearheads the defense with 4.75 digs per set.

The Huskies began the 2012 season with three of their starters, their libero and 11 letterwinners overall returning from the 2011 MAC regular season championship team. Northern Illinois, led by Ray Gooden in his 11th season at the helm, recorded a 28-7 record last season, finishing 14-2 in the MAC en route to the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Huskies were picked to finish fourth in the West in this year's preseason poll. Last week, Northern Illinois was shut out by Western Michigan, and turned around to defeat Miami by the same margin.

Akron trails the all-time series with Northern Illinois, 8-19. The Zips will look to end an eight-match skid at the hands of the Huskies - UA's last victory in the series was in 2004.

In conference matches alone, Northern Illinois leads the MAC in hitting percentage as a team at .258. Meghan Romo leads the squad with 3.46 kills per set, and MacKenzie Roddy is not far behind with an average of 3.44. Alexis Gonzalez captains the offense with 10.11 assists per set. Roddy and Gonzalez also lead the league in service aces (0.45 per set). Defensively, Amber Walker tallies 4.64 digs per set, and Mary Kurisch denies 0.94 blocks.

UA's dominating win over Kent State last Saturday was another highlight in the Akron volleyball history books this year. The 3-0 win marked the first time that the Zips shut out rival Kent State on the road in 20 years. The last time Akron rolled over Kent State on KSU's home floor was the 2002 season, before rally scoring was adopted by the NCAA.

Tina Dimitrijevs earned Mid-American Conference Scholar Athlete of the Week recognition from the league office this week. A graduate student at UA, Dimitrijevs carries a 4.00 GPA in sport science/coaching. This is the first time this season and the first time under head coach Ron Arenz that a Zips volleyball player has earned this distinction from the MAC.

As a team, Akron has delivered 87 service aces this season, compared to its opponents' 65. The stat was supplemented by Tina Dimitrijevs last weekend, who posted five service aces over the course of the Zips' two matches, including a career-high four against Kent State. Three of those four aces came on consecutive plays in the midst of a 9-0 Akron run in the third set, when Dimitrijevs served nine straight times successfully without an error. She finished the weekend averaging 0.83 aces per game, considerably higher than her season average of 0.33.

There is something to be said about getting ahead of the competition. When the Zips have a jump on their opponent this season by means of a 2-0 lead after the first two sets, they have gone on to win the match every time, posting a 7-0 record in that situation.

Akron maintains its third spot in the East Division standings this week with an even 3-3 MAC record after splitting its conference matches for the third straight weekend.

UA 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 (.233) and service aces (1.36); and fourth in kills (13.78), blocks (2.09) and assists (12.80).

Individually, Tina Dimitrijevs still has a stronghold over the conference overall with her league-leading .389 hitting percentage, which is also ranked 29th in the country. Paiton Twitty is fifth in the same category with a .301 clip. Setter Morgan Kuhn sits in fifth place with a 10.39 assists per set average. Defensively, Jill Paluch is seventh in the league in digs, averaging 4.36 per set.

The Mid-American Conference is a tough group to hang with, as proven by the weekly NCAA RPI rankings. 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 173. Bowling Green has the highest ranking in both the East and the West, moving up three spots this week to 65, and Ohio follows at 79.

TOP 100
The NCAA released the national ranking summary this week, for matches through Oct. 7. There are several categories in which the Zips fall into the Top 100 across the country:
As a TEAM...
» Aces Per Set: 88th out of 328 at 1.36 (Leader: Jackson St., 2.37)
» Assists Per Set: 61st out of 328 at 12.80 (Leader: Oregon, 14.69)
» Hitting Percentage: 74th out of 328 at .233 (Leader: Minnesota, .322) 
» Kills Per Set: 54th out of 328 at 13.78 (Leader: Oregon, 15.63) 
» Assists Per Set: Morgan Kuhn, 71st out of 250 at 10.39
» Hitting Percentage: Tina Dimitrijevs, 29th out of 250 at .389