July 27, 2013
ATHENS, Ohio - The Convo lights are dim.
The nets are down.
And #BobcatNation is still in the pool or at the beach.
But it’s these long summer days - when the spotlight is off - that matches truly can be won or lost.
Welcome to the unofficial start of Ohio volleyball season.
Although the matches that count don’t get underway until Labor Day Weekend, student-athletes report to camp on Aug. 9 and from there it’s an all-out blitz of practices, conditioning and team building.
With the beginning of camp just two weeks away, OhioBobcats.com is ready to bring you the story lines that will define the 2013 Ohio volleyball season. Over the next fortnight, we’ll provide content on returning players, schedule highlights and more that will serve as your guide to the upcoming campaign.
We start with a look at the Bobcats’ talented sophomore class. It’s a group that has already achieved a high level of success in just one season in Athens.
In college athletics, a prominent recruiting class can lead to significant achievements that define a program for years to come.
For Ohio volleyball, the sophomore class of Meredith Ashy (Louisville, Ky.), Karin Bull (Bloomington, Minn.) and Abby Gilleland (Bull Valley, Ill.) has the potential to become one of those unforgettable classes.
As freshmen in 2012, the trio contributed greatly to the team’s 14-2 league record and MAC regular season title.
Ashy, a libero, started all 31 matches for the ‘Cats in 2012 and ranked fifth in the MAC with 4.75 digs per set. Her 522 digs were the third-most in a season by an Ohio student-athlete in the rally scoring era. A first team All-MAC selection, the Louisville native garnered MAC Co-Freshman of the Year honors in November.
Now a rising sophomore, Ashy is focused on improving her game and anchoring the back line for the Bobcats.
“I’ve been working on staying low, digging to the middle and making sure I communicate well with [defensive specialist] Mollie [Geske],” Ashy said. “It’s important to progress in our strength workouts and keep pushing ourselves in the weight room as well.”
Bull patrolled the middle for Ohio throughout the 2012 season and really came into her own during the league portion of the schedule. The 6-foot-2-inch middle blocker ranked second on the team with 1.18 blocks per set and was fourth on the squad with a .247 hitting percentage. Her season-best 10-kill performance against Notre Dame was a big reason why the ‘Cats knocked off the Irish in the season finale at the Convo.
Like Ashy, Bull understands the importance of strength & conditioning to improving her game during her sophomore season.
“I’ve really been working hard in the weight room,” Bull said. “I was able to go up in weights, which is important. I’m building more muscle to be able to hit the ball down harder this season.”
Much like Ashy and Bull, Gilleland contributed right away for the Bobcats as a freshman. The Chicagoan started all 31 matches in 2012 and put together one of the best rookie campaigns in the history of the Ohio setter position.
In just one season, Gilleland already has recorded the sixth-most assists by an Ohio athlete in the rally scoring era (970). An All-MAC Freshman Team selection, she ranked ninth in the conference in assists per set.
As the player key to setting up the offense for Ohio, Gilleland has spent the off-season tailoring her game to the strengths of her Bobcat hitters.
“In the spring, I didn’t work as much on technique, but focused on bettering the ball, improving my defense and working with hitters one-on-one,” Gilleland said. “We really took the time to break down the needs and preferences of each hitter.”
It’s evident that the three sophomores on the Ohio roster play very different positions, so it should come as no surprise that the trio exhibits a range of personalities as well. For Ashy, Bull and Gilleland, it’s one of the reasons they get along so well.
“We have a ton in common, but at the same time, we’re so different. We balance each other out in a lot of ways,” Gilleland said. “I can go to Meredith for a good laugh or go to Karin for a serious conversation. It’s a nice balance to have.”
Ashy refers to Gilleland as the “mom” of the group and is thrilled that the trio has become so close in just one year in Athens.
It’s a sense of community that each player cherishes and one that rings true not only amongst the group, but also represents what they value about Ohio University.
Ashy told a story of a fan approaching her at the bank on Court Street this summer, saying, “Hi Meredith,” and wishing her well on the upcoming season.
Along with the alumni band and the capacity crowds at the Convo, it’s the unique aspects of Athens that makes the group so happy to be a part of Ohio volleyball.
Indeed, Ohio has the best volleyball fan base in the MAC, and the raucous crowds at the Convo last season helped the Bobcats rattle off 11-straight wins at home - a streak that is still ongoing.
“I’m really looking forward to the home matches and seeing all of our fans and the huge crowds again,” Bull said.
Plus with a year under their belts, it’s given the players a chance to build lasting relationships with those volleyball-zealous members of the Athens community.
“It’s been great getting to know the people who support us,” Gilleland added. “As sophomores, we now recognize the fans and the people that contribute to our program, and it’s great seeing them on campus.”
If the Ohio sophomores continue to improve upon their outstanding freshman seasons over these next three years, there’s no doubt #BobcatNation will be talking about the likable trio for years to come.