By Amy Farnum Patronis for VolleyballMag.com
Challen Geraghty’s defensive technique may be less than perfect — even a little unconventional — but it gets the job done for the Kent State Golden Flashes.
It’s no wonder the junior libero from Louisville, Ky., became the fastest player to reach 1,000 career digs in program history in her sophomore season — her amazing knack for keeping the ball off the floor, no matter where it touches her body.
“She has this crazy ability to make plays,” Kent State coach Don Gromala said. “She makes some digs in weird spots but she keeps it off the floor and gives us a chance to score some points.”
And that’s why Gromala brought her to Kent State.
“When we were recruiting her, we saw that she was a non-traditional type of defensive specialist,” Gromala said. “Technically, she did things that were a little bit different, but she made a lot of plays.”
Back then, Geraghty says her style of play was less about technique and more about instinct.
“I hadn’t been taught the perfect form,” Geraghty said. “I was just relying on my athletic ability to take over. I was just trying to get to every single ball.”
And, that’s still how Geraghty — last year’s Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year — approaches the game.
“It doesn’t matter how pretty it is — the ball isn’t going to hit the ground,” she said. “That’s what I do.”
Time and time again, Gromala has witnessed Geraghty’s uncanny capability to make good on that promise.
“There might be a line dig where she moves her position and the ball is coming at her,” Gromala said. “She’ll jump up and it will catch her in the chest instead of her using her hands. Her body looks like she was going to blow it up, and that dig will go up to the middle of the court. Then, she’s ready to go and cover that next play.”
But, since arriving at Kent State in 2014, Geraghty has made a point of leaning a little less on her creative play and becoming a student of volleyball fundamentals.
“She’s improved a lot and taken the technical part of the game to heart since being here,” Gromala said. “That’s why I think she’s gone from being a good defensive player to a great libero.”
Geraghty credits her coaches for the strides she has made.
“I’ve learned so much from my defensive coaches (at Kent State) — (former assistant coach) Kim Kuzma and (current assistant) Dominique Gonzalez,” she said. “They were both liberos when they played at Wisconsin and Penn State. They’ve taught me so much.”
As Geraghty has improved, so has the Kent State program. Last year, the Golden Flashes posted their first winning since 2007 and claimed a share of their first-ever MAC East Division championship.
“I think that our team confidence on the whole has improved,” Geraghty said. “We all believe in each other and that each of us can get the job done.”
A former assistant coach at Ohio State, Gromala came to Kent State four years ago with goals of increasing the Golden Flashes’ volleyball IQ and defensive prowess. By adding Geraghty to the roster, he hit both marks.
“She embodies what we want to be as a program,” Gromala said. “She’s a very passionate player and very exciting player on the court. It’s a testament to her and how badly she wants to do well.”
Through 13 matches, Geraghty is the only player to start every set for the Golden Flashes. She ranks second in the conference with 5.67 digs per game and has already racked up a MAC Defensive Player of the Week award. Already second on Kent State’s all-time digs list with 1,474, Geraghty also is second among active NCAA Division I players in career digs per set (5.14) and the only non-senior who appears on the list’s Top 25.
“She covers a lot of the court for us,” Gromala said. “I’m trying to make the attackers hit toward her and she embraces that. She wants that. She loves winning and being a part of a team that works really hard, and she has fun doing it at the same time.”
And, despite her small stature, it shows in a gigantic way every time she steps on the court.
“When someone has a big kill or block, she’ll be sliding on the floor or she’ll jump on someone,” Gromala said. “She’s only 5-foot-5 but whenever we get a big point she jumps about 40 inches in the air because she is so excited for her teammates.”
Geraghty says she’s always been that way.
“I’ve always been really animated on the court,” Geraghty said. “I have a real passion for volleyball. I don’t really know why — I guess I am really competitive.”
The Golden Flashes (7-6) enter the Mid-American Conference part of their schedule on a three-match winning streak when they play host to the Buffalo Bulls at 7 p.m. Friday and the Akron Zips at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center.