The Rocket volleyball team defeated Ball State and Akron at Savage Arena this weekend to pick up its first wins of the Mid-American Conference schedule. Toledo is now 7-9 (2-2 MAC), good for third place in the west division.
On Thursday, UT defeated Ball State in straight sets thanks to very few attack errors: 28 by the Cardinals and just 14 by the Rockets.
Fourth-year striker Saige Thomas led the way offensively with 15 kills, and first-year striker Chloee Kleespies recorded nine kills off the bench. Third-year libero Maurissa Leonard anchored the defense as usual with a team-high 18 digs.
Ball State was the first to get a lead as the team scored three straight, forcing a timeout by Toledo. The Rockets battled back and, after a block and two kills by Kleespies, UT gained control of the first set, 19-15. UT led 24-21, but the Cardinals scored straight to make match point interesting. Right after, they made a service error to end the suspense and the set, 25-23.
“Chloee is just a baller,” Coach Smith said about his first-year striker. “Her IQ is very high, and she just brings stability when she’s in.”
The next set started with Toledo taking the early lead, but BSU quickly closed the gap to take a 9-7 lead, which held up for most of the set.
Ball State almost took the set, but UT tied it up at 21. What followed was five minutes of outstanding volleyball from both sides. The teams remained tied all the way to 25. Leonard stepped up with two huge digs, then ended the volley with a kill. The momentum swung in the Rockets favor, and a kill by Thomas won the set for UT, 27-25.
“I think it’s always big to win a tight set like that because it teaches you how to win in those crucial moments,” Smith said.
The Cardinals appeared to still have some fight in the third set. It was tied at nine until Toledo scored four straight, forcing a BSU timeout. The Rockets controlled things from there.
They recorded a service ace, and the Rocket fans could feel the team closing in on their first conference victory of the season. Fourth-year striker Rachel Vidourek closed out the match, and UT won the set 25-16.
The Rockets returned to the court on Saturday, defeating Akron 3-2 in front of another enthusiastic crowd. Offensively, UT was led by Thomas again with 13 kills. Vidourek and Kleespies added 10 kills each.
Fourth-year captain Carly Townsend got her third double-double of the season with 41 assists and 13 digs. She recorded 76 assists and 21 digs combined in both games. All of that while playing with a surgically repaired finger that she dislocated earlier this season.
The Zips came out on fire offensively, scoring the first five points of the match. UT got as close as 11-6 after a kill by Vidourek, but Akron responded with three straight points.
The Rockets fell behind early, as they could not get anything going, and lost the set 25-16.
In the second set the teams were nearly even through the first 20 points, with UT holding a slim 11-9 lead.
The margin grew to four before the Rockets took off with five straight points to stretch the lead to 22-15. The Zips put up a good push, but it was too-little-too-late, as Toledo won the set 25-21 and tied the match.
“If we would have lost that set it would have been interesting to see how we came out” Coach Smith said.
The midnight blue and gold dominated the third set, as seven different players recorded a kill. Much like the second set, UT used a run of five straight points to take control, 16-7.
With Toledo leading 24-11, Akron rattled off six straight points cut their deficit to just seven before first-year striker Emma Swope terminated the ball to win the set and put UT ahead, 2-1.
The fourth set went back and forth early as Akron looked to stay in the match. The team scored four straight points to take a 12-9 lead and did not let that lead go for the rest of the set.
The Rockets made a slight run to cut it to 24-21, but a kill by Akron forced a fifth and final set, thanks to scoring six of the final 10 points.
UT jumped ahead early in the fifth set, but it was tied after the first eight points. The final three points were scored by three different Rockets as Kleespies, Vidourek and Swope all smashed one over the net to give UT the victory.
“We just got to keep working. There’s no magic words to say; we have a lot of matches left and one win doesn’t make our season,” Coach Smith said about the message to his team.
The midnight blue and gold return to Savage Arena Friday, Oct. 6 to take on Northern Illinois. First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m.