By Mike Ashcraft
ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio volleyball team (7-9, 1-1 MAC) is set to host a pair of critical early-season matches against Mid-American Conference East Division rivals this weekend at the Convocation Center. The Bobcats will clash with 'Battle of the Bricks' archrival Miami (9-6, 1-1 MAC) on Friday (Sept. 29), then take on Bowling Green (5-8, 1-1 MAC) on Saturday (Sept. 30). Both matches are scheduled to get underway at 7 p.m. ET and will be streamed live on ESPN3, with 'Voice of Ohio volleyball' Jake Hromada and Gabe Genovesi on the call.
The Bobcats return to the friendly confines of the Convo after playing each of the last three weekends away from Athens. Ohio is 26-13 at home in three-plus seasons under head coach Deane Webb.
"It is great to be home," said Webb. "Part of that is being in front of our fans. We have great fans here. Having a great crowd, having our band here, those are all great things when it comes to the match. But, the big thing is not having to travel and not having to spend that time on the bus, on a plane, whatever that may be for that weekend. We're just glad to not have to do that and be able to be at home."
Friday's match has been designated as Youth Day, with children under the age of 18 receiving admission to the match for just $2. The team will be available to sign autographs following the match. Saturday is Heroes' Day, with retired or active members of the military, marines, police and fire service and EMTs receiving admission to the match for just $2.
Teams will be jockeying for prime position in the MAC standings during the second weekend of the league season.
Ohio split a pair of MAC East Division matches on the road last weekend, falling at Buffalo, 3-1 (25-21, 21-25, 25-14, 25-17), last Friday (Sept. 22) but bouncing back with a 3-1 (25-15, 18-25, 25-23, 25-23) triumph at Akron the next day.
Freshman middle blocker Tia Jimerson (Sugar Hill, Ga.) continued the impressive start to her young career last weekend. Jimerson hit at a .469 clip with 29 kills (3.62 per set), which ranked second on the team. She also led the squad with five total blocks (two solo, three assisted; 0.62 per set). She tied for the team lead with 13 kills and hit at a .346 rate in the loss at Buffalo. She also tallied an assisted block, a service ace and six digs. She then hit .609 with 16 kills and added four total blocks (two solo, two assisted) to help Ohio pick up its first conference win of the 2017 season in the victory at Akron.
"It's a combination of the passing improving, because you have to do that for middles to get more swings, and she's learning ways to be more available more often when it's not a perfect pass. For example, she scored five, six, seven of her kills from behind the setter and going away. She can run that if the pass is 10 feet off comfortably. As she gets more and more experience and learns, she finds more ways to be available. That not only helps her score; it helps our offense be a little bit more balanced."
Jimerson currently ranks third among MAC players with a .352 hitting percentage, fourth with a team-high 54 total blocks (nine solo, 45 assisted; 0.90 per set) and fifth with 186 kills (3.10 per set), which ranks second on the team. She has recorded five matches in 2017 where she has hit .400 or better with double-digit kills.
"Coming into the season, I was going to be a redshirt," noted Jimerson, who found herself in the starting lineup on opening day due to several injuries at her position. Deane just said, 'Hey, I think the team might need you this year. What are the looks of you playing?' I'll do anything for the team."
In the 2017 MAC Preseason Coaches' Poll, Miami received a division-high 11 first-place votes and tallied 71 total points to finish first in the MAC East poll. Miami garnered 10 votes to win the MAC regular season crown. The RedHawks have also been selected to win theMACC tournament title with eight votes. Bowling Green was picked to place fifth in the MAC East with 29 total points.
"They're both really strong teams, both very good defensive teams and offensive teams as well," said junior setter/outside hitter Stephanie Olman (Maumee, Ohio). "Just try to play our best because those are two of the top teams in the MAC."
Ohio trails in the all-time series with Miami, 39-31 (.557). The RedHawks have taken three-straight matches from the Bobcats, with all three victories coming in sweeps for Miami. Miami swept Ohio, 3-0 (25-14, 25-21, 25-21), on Nov. 4, 2016, in its last visit to the Convo. The RedHawks are in their 34th season under the direction of head coach CarolynConditt.Conditt led Miami to a MAC regular season title in 2016 with a 15-1 mark in league play. The RedHawkss were swept by Northern Illinois in the MAC tournament title match last year but still earned an at-large bid to the 2016NCAAA Championship, where Miami fell to Oregon, 3-1, in the first round. The RedHawks enter the second week of conference play having split a pair of matches last weekend in Oxford. Miami topped Bowling Green, 3-1 (19-25, 25-23, 29-27, 25-23), last Thursday (Sept. 21) but suffered a 3-1 (20-25, 25-23, 36-34, 25-19) setback to Western Michigan on Saturday. The RedHawks are one of the top passing teams in the country, averaging 17.39 digs per set, which is good for second in the conference and 21st in the nation. Miami owns the 24th-most total team digs in the country with 1,026. Miami is also second in theMACC with 13.39 kills per set, which is good for 85th in the country. The RedHawks have logged 790 total team kills, which ranks second in the MAC and 35th in the nation. Miami's 718 total team assists rank second in the conference 41st in the nation (12.17 assists per set; third in the MAC, 117th in the country). Miami has four players on its roster with over 100 kills so far in 2017. Sophomore right side hitter/middle hitter Margaret Payne leads the RedHawks with 159 kills (2.74 per set) and also leads the team with 44 total blocks (10 solo, 34 assisted; 0.76 per set). Senior outside hitter/right side hitter Katie Tomasic -- a 2017 Preseason All-MAC East Division Team pick -- ranks second on the squad in both kills (149 kills; 2.53 per set) and total blocks (32 total blocks, seven solo, 25 assisted; 0.54 per set). Junior outside hitter/right side hitter Stela Kukoc ranks third on the team with 136 kills (2.39 per set), second with 14 service aces (0.25 per set) and third with 158 digs (2.77 per set). Senior outside hitter Olivia Rusek has tallied 102 kills (1.96 per set) -- good for fourth on the team. Freshman setter Morgan Seaman has piled up a team-high 15 service aces (0.25 per set) and also ranks second on the squad with 315 assists (5.34 per set) and third with 129 digs (2.19 per set).Redshirt junior setter Mackenzie Zielinski leads Miami with 320 assists (6.27 per set) and is fourth on the team with 101 digs (1.98 per set). Senior libero Maeve McDonald is second in the MAC and 18th in the country with a team-high 302 digs (5.12 per set; third in the MAC, 32nd in the country). The Bobcats will square off with the RedHawks for a second time on Nov. 4 at Millett Hall.
"They're really balanced, and they have a number of people that can score," said Webb. "They do run it quicker now than maybe they did two or three years ago, offensively. I think the thing on offense is that at any time they have a number of people that can hurt you, whereas there are a number of schools in our conference that maybe you have one or two or three dominant players you have to spend all of your time focusing on them and the other kids really aren't going to do much damage to you. Miami, if you don't focus on every player, at any given time, that kid the last night that only got six or seven kills, you can look at the stat sheet, and, whoa, that kid got 17 or 18 kills and put us in a bad way. And so, we really have to a good job scouting for them and being prepared for the tendencies of a few more players. As always, it comes back to serving and passing. They do a really good job of passing the ball, getting in system, and that's something that we need to do as well."
The Bobcats own a 36-30 (.545) edge in the all-time series with Bowling Green. Ohio has won nine in a row against the Falcons and swept the regular season series in 2016. The Bobcats rallied for a wild 3-2 (18-25, 25-20, 34-36, 25-21, 15-12) come-from-behind Senior Night triumph over Bowling Green on Nov. 5, 2016, at the Convo in the last meeting between the two squads.DanijelaaTomicc has served as the head coach of the Falcons for the last six years. After falling to Miami last Thursday in Oxford, Bowling Green produced a 3-2 (20-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-21, 15-13) home win over Northern Illinois on Saturday. Before playing the Bobcats this Saturday, Bowling Green will visit Kent State on Friday for a 7 p.m. ET match at the M.A.C. Center. The Falcons are one of the MAC's best passing teams, ranking fourth in the league and 51st in the country with 914 total team digs (17.58 per set; first in the country, 16th in the nation). Bowling Green also ranks sixth among conference teams with 102 total teams blocks (20 solo, 164 assisted; 1.96 per set,ffith in the MAC). The Falcons also boast four players with over 100 kills. Freshman outside hitter Jacqueline Askin leads Bowling Green 123 kills (2.56 per set). She also has a team-high 13 service aces (0.27 per set). Sophomore middle blocker/right side hitter Celenaa Kanagin is second on the squad with 110 kills (2.16 per set) and third with 29 total blocks (29 assisted; 0.57 per set). Senior outside hitterNicole Slimko is third on the team with 105 kills (2.56 per set). Junior middle blocker Madeline Brandewie ranks fourth on the team with 103 kills (1.98 per set) and is also second with 37 total blocks (six solo, 31 assisted; 0.71 per set). Freshman middle blocker Katie Kidwell leads the Falcons with 51 total blocks (five solo, 46 assisted; 1.00 per set, fourth in theMACC). Sophomore setter Isabelle Marciniak has distributed a team-high 507 assists (9.75 per set) -- good for sixth in the league. Junior liberoo/defensive specialist Kalliee Seimet is statistically one of the best passers in the country, ranking sixth 345 total digs and leading the nation with 6.63 digs per set. Ohio and Bowling Green will meet for a second time this season on Nov. 3 at the Stroh Center.
"Bowling Green is a very changed team from what they've been in the past," said Webb. "They have been that program that has had that one superstar player. (Former outside hitter Jelenaa) Sunjic was just incredible. She was one of the best ball strikers that has come through our conference. And so now, I don't think anyone over there would say, 'Oh, we're better now because she's not here.' Clearly, no one would say that. She was incredible. But, because they are more balanced, I think, in some ways, they will be tougher to defend because they have more people scoring. They've had a number of really good wins this year."
The third week of MAC play will put the Bobcats back on the road. Ohio visits MAC East Division rival Kent State next Thursday Oct. 5) in a 7 p.m. ET contest, then travels to Ypsilanti, Mich., to meet Eastern Michigan in a 5 p.m. ET matchup on Saturday Oct. 7) to begin the month of October.