Mackenzie Kitchel hadn’t planned to sit for most of Ball State’s women’s volleyball match at Ohio University last month, but that’s what happened.
The redshirt junior didn’t play at all the following evening at Kent State.
Both matches resulted in five-set losses for the Cardinals, reasons for coach Steve Shondell to second- and perhaps even third-guess himself during the long bus ride back to Muncie.
Kitchel’s outstanding play of late never gave him the chance.
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“It took Mackenzie about the first half of the season to really get going. I sat her because she was struggling. It was the best move I’ve ever made because she’s been playing great ever since,” Shondell said.
A 2012 Center Grove High School graduate, the 6-foot Kitchel averaged 9.2 kills and just under two digs in Ball State’s past six matches leading up to home matches this past weekend against Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan.
Ball State picked up four victories along the way, with Kitchel named Mid-American Conference (MAC) West Division Offensive Player of the Week. It was the first time in her college volleyball career she had picked up the honor.
Kitchel’s play of late becomes all the more rewarding considering the roadblocks she’s encountered to this point.
Since leaving Center Grove, Kitchel attended the University of Cincinnati for a year, transferred to Ball State, sustained an ACL injury to her left knee in October 2013 and had surgery in July to correct a bulging disc in her back.
Kitchel also endured kidney stones and having her tonsils removed. All this and she still needed only three years to earn her bachelor’s degree in communications.
The 2014 Academic All-MAC selection currently is working on her master’s degree in emerging media design and development.
“I have less classes now, but there’s a lot more out-of-class work. A lot of research and big projects,” said Kitchel, 21, who is carrying nine credit hours this semester. “It’s definitely a change, but a good change.”
Kitchel delivered a season-best 16 kills in Ball State’s triumph against Morehead State in September and followed with 13 apiece in two of the Cardinals’ next four matches — a victory against IPFW and a loss to South Dakota.
Despite missing the Cardinals’ first seven matches of the season while recovering from her back surgery, Kitchel is second on the team in kills. She came through with eight in her comeback match, a 3-0 loss at home to Utah Valley on Sept. 11.
“It was a little back and forth at the beginning of this season. It’s just hard coming back from back surgery over the summer,” Kitchel said.
Ironically, Ball State will soon be taking a bus back to Ohio University as the annual Mid-American Conference Tournament will be hosted by the Bobcats starting Thursday through Sunday.
This time with Kitchel doing much more than observing.
“Where Mackenzie has improved most is as a blocker and passer. She’s always been a great outside hitter, but right now she’s elevating as high as I’ve ever seen,” Shondell said.
“Mackenzie is playing the best volleyball of her life, and that’s great to see because she’s been through so much adversity and is such a great kid.”
THE KITCHEL FILE
Name: Mackenzie Kitchel
Born: West Chester, Ohio
Family: Parents, Ted and Kristi; brothers, Tyler and Scott
High school: Center Grove High School (2012)
College: Ball State University (2015)