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Countdown To Camp #2: Honing The Hardware

2012 MAC Player of the Year Kelly Lamberti

Aug. 3, 2013

ATHENS, Ohio - With the start of camp now just seven days away, it’s time to take a look at Ohio’s dynamic duo of junior left side hitters.

For Ohio’s superb pair, the 2012 season served as a coming out party that all of #BobcatNation was invited to attend.

After solid freshman campaigns in 2011, Kelly Lamberti (Cary, Ill.) and Chelsea Bilger (Fishers, Ind.) developed into two of the league’s premier outside hitters this past season.

Bilger ranked second on the team in kills (340), kills/set (3.09), points (379.0) and points per set (3.45), while her 11 solo blocks were tops on the squad. Bilger saved her best for conference play, where her 3.33 kills/set ranked ninth-best in the MAC. She was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Week on Oct. 8.

Lamberti improved upon her All-MAC freshman campaign by becoming one of the best all-around players in the conference. She not only ranked second in the league in kills/set (3.95), but was lethal from the service line, tying for for seventh in the conference in service aces/set (0.95). She contributed greatly to the team’s defensive effort with 3.36 digs/set (second-best on the squad), and her 435 kills are the 10th-most in a season during the Ohio rally scoring era.

A consistent player throughout the year, Lamberti recorded double-digit kills in 24-of-31 matches and led Ohio with 16 double-doubles.

Both players had their impressive seasons validated in the trophy case, as Lamberti and Bilger each garnered First Team All-MAC honors in 2012.

In addition, Lamberti entered a club occupied by just six players in the 44-year history of the program - she was named the MAC Player of the Year.

But despite the welcome recognition the duo received from the league, neither player was satisfied at the end of the 2012 campaign.

After all, when the end goal is to make the NCAA Tournament - a feat that’s eluded the team the past two seasons - there is always room to improve.

So during the summer, the focus has centered on trying to strengthen all facets of the hitting game and continuing to build an all-around skill set.

“I have to go out there and play just as hard as I did last year and start fresh,” Lamberti said. “I’ve been trying to hit in a variety of spots and work on my blocking.”

“This summer, I’ve tried to focus on getting in the best shape I can for the season and really working on getting my vertical up and building my endurance,” Bilger adds.

When observing the juniors, it is evident that Bilger and Lamberti are, at once, both complimentary of and complementary to each other.

They share a mutual admiration of the other’s character and understand the varying skill sets that make the pair such a difficult force to match up against.

“Both Chelsea and I are good at different things, so it helps out the team in a number of ways,” Lamberti said. “Chelsea’s great at hitting high off the block whereas I’m better at hitting the faster sets. So I think because we’re such different players, we’re very hard to defend.”

The duo’s on-court rapport can be attributed to their close relationship outside of volleyball. Since Bilger and Lamberti stepped foot on the Ohio campus in 2011, the two have been close.

“It really helps having Kelly there with me - in a lot of ways it feels like we’re related at this point,” Bilger said. “If I need someone to talk to about what I’m going through, she’s always there and is probably going through the same thing that I am. It would’ve been a lot harder to transition into my current role without her by my side.”

Now, as the calendar shifts to the 2013 season, Lamberti and Bilger are focused on starting the campaign in strong fashion.

The non-conference schedule presents opportunities to pick up quality victories over big-name opponents that can be critical to building an NCAA resume.

The Bobcats will face off against Oregon and Michigan - two teams that reached the 2012 NCAA Final Four - as well as top-tier opponents like North Carolina and Dayton.

Ohio took North Carolina to five sets and was competitive against the Ducks and Flyers last season.

“Last year the matches were pretty close, so we definitely have a chip on our shoulder to finish those games off and do it right,” Bilger said. “We have a shot to do it this year. Last year, we kind of doubted ourselves, but after seeing how well we did, we know we can hold our own against them. That will give us confidence this season.”

Starting strong is just one portion of the Bobcats’ season aspirations in 2013.

“Our team’s goal is to make it to the NCAA Tournament and be MAC Champions again,” Lamberti said. “We were a young team last year, but now with more experience, we want to be able to beat those bigger teams.”

They will also serve as mentors for the team's next duo of left side hitters - freshmen Katie Horton (Westland, Mich.) and Mallory Salis (Oak Lawn, Ill.)

For the junior duo that collected so much hardware last season, there’s a lot to prove, a lot to be excited about and a lot of success on which to build.

“I’m looking forward to representing Ohio University this season by having success and showcasing how proud we are of our school and our program,” Bilger said.

And the journey begins in just seven days.