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Volleyball Swept by Toledo, Then Loses to Ball State in Five Sets

Sophomore right side Emma Gielas

Facing two of the top MAC West teams over the weekend, the UB Volleyball team was swept by Toledo, but the next day Buffalo had two match points against Ball State, eventually losing 16–14 in the fifth set. Buffalo is now 9–9 and 2–4 in the MAC. #One4Mon

The Bulls fell behind Toledo 14–9 in the first set, only to tie the set at 18 all. At this point, Sophomore right side Emma Gielas and sophomore middle blocker Olivia DeBortoli each had 3 kills, and the Bulls had three blocks. Both teams were hitting over 0.400. And from that point on, Toledo dominated the match. Buffalo would not record another block, Gielas would score only one more time in the match (and was eventually benched) and DeBortoli would only have two more kills in the match. Buffalo finished hitting 0.172 while Toledo hit 0.385.

Sophomore outside hitter Milla Malik led the Bulls with 11 kills and hit 0.370. Freshman setter Mandy Leigh had 9 digs and 25 assists.

The first set of the match against Ball State looked like more of the same for Buffalo, as the Bulls could only hit 0.167, Ball State hit 0.393, and Ball State won the set by 10. Gielas had only one kill and hit –0.125 in the first set. But then in the second set, Buffalo came out with more energy, passed better, defended better, and Gielas suddenly became a force. Gielas had 4 kills in the second set won by Buffalo 27–25, she had five kills in the third set won by Buffalo 25–17 and then six kills in the fourth set which Buffalo lost 25–21, after Buffalo and Toledo had been tied at 21 all. By this point, Gielas also had five blocks.

The fifth set saw Buffalo fall behind 8–5 forcing Buffalo coach Scott Smith to call a time-out. Buffalo scored the next four points to take the lead, but the set was still tied at 10, when Buffalo ran off three straight points on a kill from freshman outside hitter Maria Futey, a kill from junior middle blocker Courtney Okwara, and a block from Okwara and Leigh. The kill from Futey was ruled in by both line judges and overruled as being out of bounds by the up official; Smith challenged and the result was that the call was overturned: point Buffalo.

After two Ball State points, one coming on an attack from Okwara that was way long, a kill from Malik gave Buffalo a 14–12 lead. Ball State opposite Natalie Mitchem, who had been a thorn in the Bulls’ side all night, then scored on a Buffalo overpass. Cardinal middle blocker Marie Plitt, also a thorn in the Bulls side and the leading scorer in the match with 18 kills, scored three kills in a row, one of them on a Buffalo overpass, to give Ball State the match. Too many Buffalo errors at the end of the set.

All night long, the Cardinals ran a special play for Mitchem, where she would attack out of the front row middle instead of on the wing where she normally plays, and this was very effective. At one point, Buffalo put a triple block in front of Mitchem, who scored anyway through the block.

The Bulls hit 0.286 for the match, and Gielas and Malik led the team with 17 kills, while Okwara had 16 kills (and just 2 errors) and Futey had 15 (and just 2 errors). Leigh had 56 assists and 3 kills (and 0 errors). DeBortoli had 7 blocks, Gielas had 5 and Okwara had 4. Buffalo had five players with double digit digs, led by Futey with 15, Malik and Leigh with 14 and junior libero Jenna Sonnenberg and senior defensive specialist Kyndal Bacon each with 13. It was the first start for Sonnenberg this year.

Buffalo will play Akron at Alumni Arena on Wednesday at 6pm.


  • Sophomore defensive specialist Emilie Davis was unavailable for the two matches. Junior middle blocker Abby Leigh also remains unavailable due to an injury.
  • Smith usually coaches from a seated position, taking notes, similar to Penn State coach Russ Rose. Against Ball State, from the middle of the second set on, Smith coached standing, and did not take notes. I’m not saying this had anything to do with Buffalo’s improved performance, but I felt it was still worth noting.
  • There is a debate in the volleyball world about how and when coaches should use challenges, since coaches get only two per match (plus an extra one if the match goes to five sets), and this year if a coach’s challenge is correct and the call is overturned then the team does not lose the challenge. Some coaches prefer to save challenges for the end of the sets when they might be more impactful, others believe you use your challenges whenever needed, until you run out. Smith appears to be clearly in the latter camp, challenging calls early in the first set in both matches this weekend.
  • Toledo coach Jason Oliver went above and beyond the usual coaching tasks, performing the task of wiping moisture off the court throughout the entire match, crouching down on the court instead of allowing the players to perform this awkward and potentially tiring task. Buffalo’s players performed this task during the Toledo match. How did Buffalo react to this unusual move by Oliver? Against Ball State, Buffalo assistant coach David Beck was assigned the task of wiping the floor, saving the players from this task.