By Mike Ashcraft
ATHENS, Ohio -- In less than two full days, fourth-year Ohio volleyball head coach Deane Webb saw the kind of growth from his young team that coaches usually see in two weeks of work.
Ohio (4-3), riddled with injuries, pushed defending Big South Conference champion High Point (4-2) to five sets before falling, 3-2 (23-25, 26-24, 26-24, 24-26, 17-15) in a highly competitive final match of the 2017 Bobcat Invitational presented by Texas Roadhouse on Saturday (Sept. 2) at the Convocation Center.
Already without their two captains, senior outside hitter Jaime Kosiorek (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) and redshirt junior middle blocker Katie Nelson (Regina, Saskatchewan), the Bobcats found themselves without the services of redshirt sophomore Carley Remmers (Filley, Neb.), who suffered an injury on Friday (Sept. 1) in Ohio's thrilling 3-2 (19-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-21, 15-7) come-from-behind win over Oklahoma. Remmers' absence forced Webb to move junior setter Stephanie Olman (Maumee, Ohio) to outside hitter, a position she has not regularly played since high school.
"I really was pleased overall," said Webb of his team's effort against High Point. "I think until you get to the very, very end of that match, I think maybe we took our foot off the gas just a little bit after getting a couple of match points. But, overall, I was very pleased with the match. I'm proud of our girls for the way they played. If you compare our team right now to the team that played yesterday morning, I think in 30 hours we got two weeks better. Truly, it was that much progression that happened. The effort, the energy as a team. Yesterday morning, it was team that wasn't going for balls, and, today, we get 98 digs as a team that's down multiple starters. We have a setter playing outside hitter for the first time in five years in this match. All these things that happening, and just a lot of resilience shown. Just to have that many people our position and still being out there and being able to function against a very good High Point team. We knew we'd have to play well, and we did. They were just a little bit better at the end."
Ohio finished the Bobcat Invitational 1-2. On Friday morning, the Bobcats were swept by Georgia, 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-19). Freshman middle blocker Tia Jimerson (Sugar Hill, Ohio) represented the hosts on the all-tournament team after finishing the weekend with a team-high 21 total blocks (three solo, 18 assisted; 1.62 per set) and 48 kills (3.69 per set), which tied her for the team lead.
The Panthers earned the Bobcat Invitational title after going 3-0 this weekend in Athens. On Friday afternoon, High Point swept Oklahoma, 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-19) and topped Georgia, 3-1 (25-22, 19-25, 25-18, 25-21). Junior right side hitter Katie Tylman was named most valuable player of the Bobcat Invitational while senior outside hitter Haley Barnes and junior middle blocker Jordan Hefner joined her on the all-tournament team.
The Bobcats fell to High Point despite another big performance by Jimerson on Saturday, who hit .488 and tied sophomore outside hitter Lizzie Stephens (Dallas, Texas) for the match lead with 23 kills. Jimerson also ranked second on the team with seven total blocks (one solo, six assisted) and added an assist. Stephens, who set a new career high with 23 kills recorded her fourth double-double of the season and second in a row with a career-high 20 digs. She also led Ohio with three service aces and tallied three total blocks (one solo, two assisted. Sophomore middle blocker Sara Januszewski (Oak Creek, Wis.) turned in a solid performance for the Bobcats with a .360 hitting percentage and a career-high 13 kills. She also logged a season-high six total blocks (one solo, five assisted). Redshirt senior middle blocker Ali Lake (Liberty Township, Ohio) led the match with a season-high eight total blocks (one solo, seven assisted) and finished with four kills and three digs. Freshman setter Vera Giacomazzi (San Vendemiano, Italy) directed Ohio's attack with a career-high 66 assists in addition to a career-high four kills and 15 digs. She also notched an assisted block. Freshman libero Macy Reihing (Lexington, Ky.) and sophomore outside hitter/libero Allyson Vaughn (Glenview, Ill.) matched Stephens for the team lead with 20 digs apiece, which Vaughn setting a career high. Vaughn also recorded a career-high two service aces to go along with an assist. Reihing also chipped in a service ace. Sophomore libero Meredith Howe (Grand Rapids, Mich.) was one of five Bobcats to record double-digiti digs with 12. She also had two assists.
Ohio earned a two-point win in the opening set despite committing 10 attack errors and hitting just .104. Stephens posted a set-high six kills to guide the Bobcats to a 1-0 lead in the match, with her sixth clinching it. The Bobcats found themselves down 22-19 and forced to take a timeout. It was all Ohio from that point forward, though, as Stephens provided the 'Cats with three kills and Lake and Januszewski combined for a double block.
The Bobcats suffered tough back-to-back 26-24 losses to High Point in the second and third sets, though.
The Panthers had set point in the second at 24-23 after a kill by Tylman, but a kill by Olman kept the Bobcats alive. Unfortunately for Ohio, High Point evened the match thanks to a kill by junior outside hitter Abby Broadstreet and a double block by Barnes and junior middle blocker Molly Livingston.
Ohio trailed for nearly all of the third set and was forced to take a timeout after a kill by Barnes gave the Panthers a 21-15 lead. The Bobcats came clawing back, though, with a double block by Jimerson and Lake, kills by Stephens and Olman, four kills by Jimerson and a service ace by Vaughn evening the score at 23-all. A kill by Livingston gave High Point set point, but a kill by Januszewski pressed the set on. High Point took a two-point win and a 2-0 lead in the match, though, courtesy of a kill by Livingston and an Ohio attack error.
It appeared as though High Point might run away with a 3-1 match win when the Panthers jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the fourth set thanks in large part to three kills by Broadstreet. Ohio kept battling, though and used 14-8 run to even the score at 18-all, with Januszewski providing four kills and Stephens and Januszewski combining for two double blocks and Jimerson and Lake teaming up for another during the rally. The Bobcats called timeout after High Point grabbed a 21-19 lead after back-to-back Ohio attack errors. An attack error and a ball handling error by the Panthers and a kill by Lake helped even the score at 22-all. High Point had match point, though, at 24-23, after kills by Broadstreet and Tylman. The Bobcats forced the fifth set, however, as Jimerson came up with a kill to tie it and Stephens added two more for the fourth-set victory.
Trailing 9-6 in the fifth set after a double block by freshman right side hitter Katie Doering and Hefner, Ohio used a timeout. After regrouping, the Bobcats fought all the way back to bring it to match point at 14-12 after two kills by Jimerson, kills by Olman and Januszewski and double blocks by Lake and Jimerson and Olman and Jimerson. High Point flipped the script, though, with a kill by Tylman and back-to-back Ohio attack errors. Jimerson kept hope alive for Ohio with her 23rd kill, but a kill by Tylman and another Ohio attack error gave the Panthers a hard-fought five-set victory. High Point hit .350 with 11 kills in the fifth set while holding Ohio to a .182 hitting percentage.
Tylman, who hit .372 for the match, led High Point with 20 kills and also added five assisted blocks and two digs. Livingston added 18 kills and hit .371. She also logged seven total blocks (one solo, six assisted) to tie for the match lead in addition to four digs. Barnes nearly recorded a double-double for the Panthers with nine kills and 13 digs. She also added a team-high three service aces as well as an assisted block. Broadstreet finished the match with eight kills, 14 digs and an assist. Hefner posted eight kills in addition to seven total blocks (four solo, three assisted) to tie for the match lead. Sophomore setter Jenna Smith dished out a team-high 49 assists and had a kill, an assisted blocks and eight digs while senior setter Carly Jimenez chipped in 16 assists and seven digs. Freshman defensive specialist Abby Bottomley led the match with 28 digs and logged an assist.
Ohio's four-match homestand concludes next Tuesday (Sept. 5) with a 6 p.m. ET matchup against longtime rival Marshall (2-5) at the Convo. The Thundering Herd finished 1-2 at the Spartan Invitational in East Lansing, Mich., this weekend. Marshall was swept by host Michigan State, 3-0 (25-10, 25-18, 25-22) on Friday and split a pair of matches on Saturday, being swept, 3-0 (25-18, 25-20, 25-18) by Texas A&M Corpus Christi before sweeping San Diego State, 3-0 (25-18, 25-23, 30-28). The Bobcats will be looking to avenge a tough 3-2 (25-21, 24-26, 24-26, 25-18, 15-12) loss to the Thundering Herd suffered last season in Huntington, W. Va., on Aug. 30, 2016.