By Mike Ashcraft
ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio volleyball team (3-0) is coming off an opening weekend of the 2017 season in which it went undefeated and captured the Courtyard By Marriott Invitational title in Birmingham, Ala.
There is little time for the Bobcats to bask in the glow of a solid start to the season. A formidable in-state foe awaits them on Tuesday (Aug. 29) -- Dayton (2-1). The match is set to begin at 7 p.m. ET at the Thomas J. Frericks Athletic and Convocation Center. Jake Hromada, the voice of Ohio volleyball, will have the call of the action on StretchInternet's GameCentral. The match will also be televised regionally on Spectrum Sports Ohio and streamed on the A-10 Network.
The Bobcats and the Flyers will clash for the 19th time in the history of the series, with Ohio holding a 10-8 edge all-time. Dayton has won the last two meetings, with the Flyers edging the Bobcats, 3-2, on Nov. 28, 2014, in Dayton, then sweeping Ohio, 3-0, on Nov. 27, 2015, in Athens.
The Flyers, who received votes in the preseason American Volleyball Coaches Association poll with 71 points, won two of three matches over the weekend at the Northern Illinois Holiday Inn Express Invitational in DeKalb, Ill. Dayton suffered a 3-0 (25-19, 28-26, 25-18) sweep at the hands of Cal Poly last Friday (Aug. 25) bounced back with a 3-1 (20-25, 25-18, 25-12, 25-14) victory over tournament host Northern Illinois that evening and a 3-1 (21-25, 25-18, 25-22, 25-23) triumph over High Point on Saturday (Aug. 26).
"They're a very physical team, and they run a very fast offense," assessed fourth-year head coach Deane Webb. "We know we're going to have to play at a much higher level that what we've played yet to find success against them. Good program, a well-coached team. We know that's something where we're going to have play at a very high level and get back in the gym and do a better job on serve-and-pass."
Dayton is led by three-time reigning Atlantic 10 Conference Coach of the Year Tim Horsmon, who is in his ninth season with the Flyers. The Flyers finished 30-2 and won the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship in 2016 before their season came to an end in a 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh in 2016 NCAA Championship First Round action. Dayton was picked to repeat as A-10 champs in the league's preseason poll, receiving nine out of 10 possible first-place votes.
Through three matches in 2017, senior outside hitter Jessica Sloan and junior outside hitter Lauren Bruns lead Dayton's attack with 39 (3.55 per set) and 38 (3.45 per set) kills, respectively. Senior middle blocker Amber Erhahon has compiled a team-high 13 total blocks (three solo, 10 assisted; 1.18 per set) and is hitting at a .468 pace with 28 kills (2.55 per set). Junior middle blocker Kendyll Brown has logged 11 total blocks (one solo, 10 assisted; 1.00 per set) to rank second on the team. She also owns a .425 hitting percentage with 22 kills (2.00 per set). Senior setter Jane Emmenecker has dished out 101 assists (9.18 per set) and is tied with Sloan for the team lead with four service aces (0.36 per set). Junior defensive specialist/libero Margo Wolf leads the Flyers with 47 digs (4.27 per set).
COURTYARD BY MARRIOTT INVITATIONAL CHAMPS
The Bobcats got their season off on the right foot with a 3-0 performance in Birmingham, Ala., to win the Courtyard By Marriott Invitational title. On Friday, Ohio opened up the 2017 season with a 3-0 (25-19, 25-19, 25-23) sweep of Murray State in the morning, then pulled out a hard-fought win over tournament host Samford, 3-2 (25-19, 17-25, 25-20, 22-25, 15-10) in the evening. The Bobcats sealed their season-opening weekend tournament crown with a 3-0 (25-18, 25-18, 25-20) sweep of Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday. Murray State and Samford both qualified for the 2016 NCAA Championship field.
"It was a good overall performance this weekend, just to sweep the tournament," said Webb. "It was good for our team to get challenged (Friday night against Samford). We had some times we were dominant and some times we had to play some really close sets. All those things helped us. Now, it's a matter of going forward and getting back in the gym, getting better and getting ready for a really good Dayton team."
The Bobcats placed three players on the All-Courtyard By Marriott Invitational Team -- freshman setter Vera Giacomazzi (San Vendemiano, Italy), freshman middle blocker Tia Jimerson (Sugar Hill, Ga.) and sophomore outside hitter Lizzie Stephens (Frisco, Texas).
Giazomazzi was named the tournament's most valuable player after distributing 123 assists (11.18 per set) over three matches. She also logged 26 digs (2.36 per set) to rank fifth on the squad, four kills, two service aces and six assisted blocks (0.55 per set).
"As a team, we hit .306 this weekend," noted Webb. "My goal going into the weekend, I wanted to hit .300 for the weekend. We didn't pass particularly well the first two matches, especially. We still hit that percentage. If you pass poorly and hit for a high number, a large amount of that credit has to go to your setter. She did a great job."
Jimerson finished the weekend with 29 kills (2.64 per set) to rank third on the squad and led Ohio with 15 total blocks (two solo, 13 assisted; 1.36 per set).
"This tournament was probably a good example of where she is right now as a player; a dominant offensive player and a player that's learning on defense," said Webb of Jimerson. "She definitely had some impressive offensive moments. She got better as the weekend went on. She hit a couple balls today just that were routes that she had not run before. She's learning and she's improving. If she puts the work in, she has a chance to be a very, very good player."
Stephens finished second on the team with 34 kills (3.09 per set) and ranked fourth with 28 digs (2.55 per set). She also tallied two service aces and five assisted blocks (0.45 per set).
"She's really worked hard in the last year," said Webb of Stephens. "She's really improved in a number of different areas. She attacked well, front row and back row. She hit .270 for the weekend, which is a great number. She served well. She's just a good player for us, a good, all-around player."
Ohio's starting lineup featured five underclassmen on Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana. In additon to Giacomazzi, Jimerson and Stephens, sophomore middle blocker/outside hitter Sara Januszewski (Oak Creek, Wis.) and freshman libero Macy Reihing (Lexington, Ky.) started for the Bobcats. Reihing led Ohio with 33 digs (3.00 per set) over the three matches.
The Bobcats' youngsters expect the experience of winning a pre-conference tournament title to go a long way toward helping with their development.
"It builds a lot of confidence in ourselves," said Stephens. "It shows that we can play at a pretty high level. It shows that we have very high potential, and we're excited for what's to come."
KOSIOREK REACHES 1,000 CAREER KILLS MILESTONE
Senior outside hitter Jaime Kosiorek (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) tallied her 1,000th career kill in the third set of Ohio's sweep of Murray State last Friday. She finished the weekend with a team-high 42 kills (3.82 per set) and five service aces (0.45 per set) and ranked second on the squad with 30 digs (2.73 per set).
Kosiorek tallied her 12th career double-double with 10 kills and a team-high 15 digs and also logged an assisted block in the win over the Racers. Later that evening in the five-set victory over Samford, she tallied a second-straight double-double courtesy of a team-high 17 kills to go along with 11 digs. She also finished with two service aces, an assisted block and an assist. Kosiorek led Ohio's attack in Saturday's sweep of Southeastern Louisiana, hitting .379 with a match-high 15 kills and three service aces. She also compiled four digs.
Kosiorek, who is serving as one of Ohio's team captains in 2017 alongside redshirt junior middle blocker Katie Nelson (Regina, Saskatchewan), currently ranks ninth in the rally scoring era in program history with 1,033 kills. Her 3.01 kills per set are good for seventh in the rally scoring era in program history. Her 120 service aces are ninth overall in program history and third in the rally scoring era while her 0.35 service aces per set rank second in the rally scoring era in program history. Kosiorek's 1,218 career points rank 10th in the rally scoring era in program history while her 3.55 points per set are good for seventh in the rally scoring era in program history.
RANKING NEAR THE TOP
In the Mid-American Conference's first statistical report of the 2017 season, Ohio ranks first among the 12 conference teams in hitting percentage (.307; 144 kills-40 errors-339 total attacks), second in opponent hitting percentage (.141; 107 kills-57 errors-354 total attacks), kills (144; 13.09 per set) and assists (132; 12.00 per set) and is tied for third in blocks (23 total blocks; two solo, 42 assisted; 2.09 per set).
Individually, Jimerson leads the conference in hitting percentage (.490; 29 kills-four errors-51 total attacks) and ranks second in blocks. Giacomazzi ranks second in the league in assists. Redshirt senior middle blocker Ali Lake (Liberty Township, Ohio) ranks second in the MAC in hitting percentage (.458; 12 kills-one error-24 total attacks) while Nelson ranks ninth (.328; 13 kills-four errors-27 total attacks).
Ohio will make its regular season debut at the Convocation Center this weekend as the Bobcats play host to the Bobcat Invitational presented by Texas Roadhouse. The Bobcat Invitational features two Power Five conference opponents and another 2016 NCAA Championship qualifier. The Bobcats face off against Southeastern Conference opponent Georgia and Big 12 Conference opponent Oklahoma on Friday (Sept. 1), then close out their home tournament with a matchup against High Point on Sept. 2. The Panthers won the Big South Conference tournament after going 23-10 in the regular season last year. High Point fell to No. 7-ranked North Carolina, 3-0, in NCAA Championship First Round action. Ohio has never faced Georgia and will be playing Oklahoma for a second year in a row after meeting for the first time ever in the NIKE Invitational last September in Norman, Okla. Click here to see the full Bobcat Invitational schedule.