Volleyball Rockets Head to Ball State on Thursday for Showdown w - 13abc.com Toledo (OH) News, Weather and Sports

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Volleyball Rockets Head to Ball State on Thursday for Showdown with First-Place Cardinals; Visit Buffalo on Saturday

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Toledo (16-10, 9-3 MAC) begins the stretch run of its Mid-American Conference campaign with a trip to Muncie, IN on Thursday, Nov. 7 where it can pull into a first-place tie with West Division leader Ball State (22-5, 10-2 MAC). Following their matchup vs. the Cardinals, the Rockets will take a day off before traveling to Buffalo, NY to take on Buffalo (16-9, 4-8 MAC) on Saturday, Nov. 9. Both contests are set for 7:00 p.m. starting times.

     UT capped off its first undefeated conference home season in program history last weekend with victories over Eastern Michigan (3-1) and Central Michigan (3-2). The wins avenged road defeats to both the Eagles and Chippewas in Toledo's first two league matches. The senior tandem of OH Lauren Rafdal and MB Dakota Harkins led the Rockets offensively in both contests.

     Rafdal paced UT with 18 kills against EMU, while Harkins tied her career high with 16 kills to go along with a .500 hitting mark. Against CMU, Rafdal provided a team-high 17 kills as well as a career-high 19 digs, with Harkins garnering 13 terminations and a team-best .310 attack percentage.

     Rafdal and Harkins — along with OH Jordan Kielty, S Adria Pryor, and RSH Becca Reidy — make up a senior class that has led UT on the verge of its best season ever. The quintet represents Head Coach Greg Smith's first recruiting class after he assumed leadership of the program in May 2009.

     The Rockets have won nine of their last MAC 10 contests and are off to their best start in school history with a 9-3 league ledger. UT also holds the MAC's longest current win streak at five and handed Ball State one of its two league setbacks this season by ending the Cardinals' 11-match win streak.

     In that contest, Rafdal blasted a career-high 28 kills along with a .300 attack percentage and freshman libero Ellen Hays came up with a season-high 31 digs. The Rockets connected for a .239 attack percentage, while limiting Ball State to a .177 hitting mark.

     Rafdal leads the MAC in kills per set in both overall (4.01) and league (4.57) play, while Harkins is averaging a team-high 1.05 blocks per set along with a squad-best .342 hitting mark. Pryor is serving as the quarterback of UT's offense and averaging 10.70 assists per set. In conference action, she has notched a league-best 11.72 assists per set.

     Hays is pacing Toledo defensively in the back row with 4.55 digs per set to rank eighth in the loop.

 

ROCKETS RETURNING TO POSTSEASON PLAY

     Toledo has secured one of eight spots in the 2013 Mid-American Conference Tournament with two weekends to play. The Rockets are one of three squads to have clinched a berth with Ball State and Ohio also having done so.

     UT is currently the No. 3 seed for the tournament with the Cardinals sitting at No. 1 and Bobcats at No. 2. If the season ended today, the remaining seedings would be No. 4 Bowling Green, No. 5 Northern Illinois, No. 6 Western Michigan, No. 7 Kent State and No. 8 Central Michigan.

     Toledo's last appearance in the league tourney was in 2010 when it advanced to the semifinals. The Rockets swept No. 1 seed Ball State in the quarterfinals before falling to Northern Illinois, 3-1, in the semifinals.

 

A LOOK AT BALL STATE

     The Cardinals are tied with Ohio for the best MAC record and hold the tiebreaker with the Bobcats for tournament seeding due to their 3-2 road win on Oct. 19. BSU is coming off a pair of home sweeps of Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan last weekend and possess an 8-1 mark in Worthen Arena.

     The Cardinals lead the MAC in kills per set (14.62), assists per set (13.79) and opponent attack percentage (.149) and rank second in digs per set (16.61).

     Individually, sophomore MB Hayley Benson is second in the conference with a .366 hitting mark, while senior S Jacqui Seidel is tied for second with 0.30 service aces per set.

     Also ranking in the Top 10 are sophomore OH Alex Fuelling (3rd with 3.75 kps, T-4th with 0.29 saps), senior OH Kylee Baker (T-4th with 0.29 saps), senior libero Catie Fredrich (5th with 4.75 dps) and senior MB Mindy Marx (6th with .343 ATK%).

 

A LOOK AT BUFFALO

     Buffalo, which will visit Akron prior to hosting Toledo on Saturday, brings a five-match losing skid into this week's action. The Bulls' match vs. the Rockets will their first home contest since Oct. 19.

     Buffalo is one of the top defensive squads in the MAC, ranking second with 2.79 blocks per set and third with a .172 opponent attack percentage.

     Senior libero Kelly Svoboda sits atop the MAC with 5.60 digs per set and has earned MAC East Division Defensive Player of the Week on three occasions this season. Senior MB Carissa McKenna ranks third in the league with 1.31 blocks per set, while sophomore MB Amber Hatchett is fifth with 1.25 blocks per set.

     Junior RSH Liz Scott leads the Bulls with a .267 attack percentage, while sophomore OH Tahleia Bishop paces Buffalo with 3.45 kills per set.

 

UT VS. THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS

     Toledo possesses a 6-57 all-time win-loss mark vs. Ball State and snapped a four-match losing streak in its series vs. the Cardinals with its 3-1 win over BSU on Oct. 3. UT's last win over the Cardinals  previously was a 3-0 sweep in the 2010 MAC Quarterfinals.

     The Rockets have lost just once in 19 meetings against the Bulls with their lone defeat coming in a 3-2 (30-27, 25-30, 31-29, 17-30, 17-15) setback in Alumni Arena on Oct. 18, 2002.

 

ROCKETS IN THE RPI

     Toledo is on the verge of breaking into the Top 100 of the NCAA Women's Volleyball RPI Rankings which were released Monday.

     The Rockets are ranked at No. 102 (out of 332 programs) with Ohio and Ball State topping the MAC at No. 42 and No. 45, respectively. Other conference schools appearing in the Top 100 are No. 71 Bowling Green, No. 85 Northern Illinois and No. 97 Western Michigan.

 

ROCKETS IN MAC RANKINGS

     Senior OH Lauren Rafdal ranks second with 4.01 kps, just ahead of CMU's Kaitlyn McIntyre (4.00)...Senior S Adria Pryor ranks third with 10.99 aps...Freshman L Ellen Hays ranks seventh with 4.55 dps and is first among all freshmen...Senior MB Dakota Harkins is seventh with a .342 ATK% and is eighth with 1.05 bps.

 

RAFDAL BRINGING THE HAMMER

     Senior OH Lauren Rafdal has topped the Rockets in kills in 21 of their 26 matches, including each of the last 12 contests. She is averaging a MAC-best 4.01 kps to go along with a .191 attack percentage. She also tops the MAC in league play with an even better 4.47 kps.

     Rafdal registered three of her top career performances earlier this season. She also became the ninth Rocket ever to tally 1,000 career kills when she garnered 27 terminations against Northern Illinois on Oct. 11.

     A Westfield, IN native who ranks sixth at UT with 1,136 kills, Rafdal tallied a career-high 28 terminations  and a .300 ATK% vs. Ball State on Oct. 3, two shy of the school record. Against Akron on Oct. 5, she tallied a career-best .500 ATK% with 18-1-30 totals.

     Rafdal was named MAC West Offensive Player of the Week for her performance against the Cardinals and Zips.

     Rafdal also has the top two kill totals in the MAC this season with 28 kills vs. the Cardinals and 27 vs. the Huskies, respectively.

 

HARKINS PUTTING UP ROOF

     Senior MB Dakota Harkins has continued her prowess as one of the MAC's top blockers and was selected to three all-tournament teams prior to the start of league play.

     A 2012 Second-Team All-MAC honoree, Harkins is averaging 1.05 bps and has registered three or more blocks in 21 of 26 contests.

     A Canal Fulton, OH native, Harkins tallied a season-high 12 blocks (one shy of her career best) at Kent State on Oct. 19. She also has garnered eight rejections at Youngstown State, seven vs. Loyola (IL) and six against Eastern Illinois.

     The team leader with a .342 attack percentage that would break her own school record of .321 in 2011, Harkins is UT's all-time leader with a .313 career hitting mark and 0.99 bps.

     Harkins tied her career high with 16 kills along with a .500 attack percentage in 3-1 win over Eastern Michigan on Nov. 1.

 

PRYOR SETTING THE TONE

     Senior S Adria Pryor has quarterbacked the Rockets' offense since the start of the 2012 campaign. Pryor is averaging 10.70 aps and tops the MAC in league play with 11.72 aps.

     She also is tied for second on the team with 2.31 dps and tallied a career-high seven blocks vs. Ball State (Oct. 3).

     Pryor also has become efficient as an attacker with a .356 attack percentage. In her last seven matches, the Greenwood, IN native has been even better with a .472 hitting mark on 18-1-36 totals.

     Pryor was also named MAC West Division Offensive Player of the Week on Oct. 28 after averaging 12.75 assists per set, 2.25 digs and 0.75 blocks per set as well as a .500 attack percentage to lead UT to 3-1 home triumphs over Miami and Bowling Green.

 

HAYS DIGGING IT

     Freshman L Ellen Hays impacted UT's defensive fortunes this season by taking the reins as the team's libero immediately. Hays ranks fifth in league action with 5.12 dps and played a key role in UT's win over West leader Ball State on Oct. 3 with a career-high 31 digs.

     The Temperance, MI native received MAC Defensive Player of the Week honors after averaging 5.00 dps the week of Oct. 7-13.

     Hays ranks third for most digs (464) in a season in school history  and needs 45 more to surpass Lora Sarich's record of 508 in 2005.

 

A LOOK AHEAD

     Toledo closes out its regular season with matches at MAC West Division foes Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. The Rockets will face the Broncos on Friday, Nov. 15 in Kalamazoo, MI before heading to DeKalb, IL for a matchup against the Huskies on Saturday, Nov. 16.

     UT posted 3-2 victories against both the Huskies and Broncos in Savage Arena earlier this season.