By Mike Ashcraft
ATHENS, Ohio -- The third weekend of 2017 Mid-American Conference play puts the Ohio volleyball team (8-10, 2-2 MAC) back on the road, with a trip to East Division rival Kent State (2-13, 0-4 MAC) on Thursday (Oct. 5) at 7 p.m. ET at the M.A.C. Center followed by a visit to West Division foe Eastern Michigan (10-10, 2-2 MAC) on Saturday (Oct. 7) at 5 p.m. ET at the Convocation Center.
Thursday's matchup against the Golden Flashes will be streamed live on ESPN3 while Saturday's contest against the Eagles will be streamed live on EMU All-Access (subscription required).
The Bobcats split a pair of matches against MAC East Division rivals last weekend at the Convocation Center in Athens. Ohio emerged victorious over archrival Miami, 3-2 (21-25, 25-22, 25-16, 17-25, 15-13), in the first 'Battle of the Bricks' matchup of the 2017 season between the two programs last Friday (Sept. 29). The Bobcats improved to 3-1 in five-set matches in 2017 with the win. On Saturday (Sept. 30), Ohio fell back to .500 in MAC play with a 3-1 (17-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-22) loss to Bowling Green. The Bobcats were hampered by 27 attack errors, eight service errors and seven reception errors in the loss to the Falcons. Bowling Green came out on top in four sets despite hitting just .170.
Heading into the third week of league play, Ohio ranks third in the MAC with 847 total team kills (56th in the country; 12.28 per set) and 797 total team assists (54th in the country; 11.55 per set) and fourth in the conference with 87 total team service aces (84th in the country; 1.26 per set).
The Bobcats boast several young players who are making noise in both the conference and national statistical rankings.
Freshman middle blocker Tia Jimerson (Sugar Hill, Ga.) is stating an early case to be the MAC Freshman of the Year. She is tied for second among conference players with a .338 hitting percentage, is tied for fifth with 218 kills (3.16 per set) and ranks fifth with a team-high 63 total blocks (11 solo, 52 assisted; 0.91 per set). Jimerson tallied her first career double-double in last Friday's win over Miami with a team-high 14 kills to go along with 10 digs. The following day against Bowling Green Jimerson hit .395 with 18 kills to tie for the match lead. She added 14 digs to post her second-straight double-double. Jimerson also logged a team-high three assisted blocks, a service ace and an assist.
Freshman setter Vera Giacomazzi (San Vendemiano, Italy) is making a compelling argument for being the league's top rookie as well. She leads the MAC and ranks 24th in the country with 687 assists (10.10 per set). She also ranks third on the team with 149 digs (2.19 per set), fourth with 25 assisted blocks (0.37 per set) and fifth with eight service aces (0.12 per set). Giacomazzi led the match with 46 kills and achieved her fourth career double-double with a career-high 19 digs in last Friday's victory over Miami. She also totaled a kill and a career-high four assisted blocks. Giacomazzi then dished out a match-high 58 assists on Saturday against Bowling Green, marking the fourth time she has tallied 50 or more assists. She also recorded a kill, two assisted blocks and a service ace and achieved her fifth career double-double and second in a row with a career-high 21 digs.
Sophomore outside hitter Lizzie Stephens (Dallas, Texas) ranks as one of the MAC's top attackers. She is currently second in the conference and 43rd in the nation with 248 kills (0.42 per set; fifth in the MAC). She also leads the league and ranks 19th in the country with 29 service aces (0.42 per set; first in the MAC, 55th in the country). Stephens has posted double-digit kills a team-high 15 times for Ohio in 2017 -- including in each of the last eight matches.
Ohio will be looking to earn its third win over a MAC East Division rival when it takes on Kent State on Thursday while Saturday's match against Eastern Michigan marks the Bobcats' first against a MAC West Division foe in 2017.
Ohio leads the all-time series with Kent State, 52-21 (.712). The Bobcats swept the 2016 regular season series from the Golden Flashes -- including a 3-1 (26-24, 25-14, 20-25, 29-27) triumph at the M.A.C. Center on Nov. 10. Kent State is in year six under the leadership of head coach Don Gromala. The Golden Flashes are still in search of their first MAC win of 2017. Kent State fell to 0-4 in league play after dropping a pair of matches to MAC East Division rivals at home last weekend. Bowling Green topped Kent State, 3-1 (25-20, 21-25, 25-16, 25-13), on Friday, then Miami edged the Golden Flashes, 3-2 (25-19, 21-25, 32-30, 21-25, 15-6), the following day. Kent State ranks third in the MAC and 24th in the country with 17.22 digs per set (878 total team digs), thanks in large part to senior defensive specialist/libero Challen Geraghty, who ranks fifth in the league with 292 digs (5.73 digs per set; second in the MAC, 11th in the country). Senior outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger leads the team with 193 kills (3.78 per set; third in the MAC, 74th in the country). Geraghty is Kent State top threat from the service line with a team-high 10 service aces (0.20 per set). Sophomore middle blocker Myla King has tallied a team-high 32 total blocks (four solo, 28 assisted; 0.73 per set) while senior opposite hitter Heather Younkin ranks second on the squad with 26 total blocks (four solo, 22 assisted; 0.58 per set). Freshman setter Natalie Tagala has distributed a team-high 355 assists (7.72 per set). Ohio and Kent State will meet again on Nov. 9 at the Convo.
Ohio is 36-15 (.706) all-time against Eastern Michigan. The Bobcats earned a dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 (25-18, 23-25, 22-25, 25-19, 15-8) win over the Eagles on Oct. 8, 2016, at the Convo in Athens in the last meeting between the two teams. In Ohio's last trip to Ypsilanti on Oct. 3, 2015, the Bobcats earned a 3-0 (25-21, 25-23-25-19) sweep over Eastern Michigan. The Bobcats have taken each of the last 15 meetings from the Eagles. Kimi Olson is in her third season as the head coach at Eastern Michigan. The Eagles split a pair of matches against MAC West Division rivals on the road last weekend. Eastern Michigan edged Northern Illinois, 3-2 (25-20, 24-26, 25-20, 23-25, 15-8), last Friday in DeKalb, Ill., but suffered a 3-1 (25-15, 18-25, 25-23, 25-20) loss at the hands of Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, Mich., the following day. Eastern Michigan ranks at the top of the MAC in several statistical categories. The Eagles rank sixth in the country with 185 total team blocks (24 solo, 322 assisted; 2.47 per set; 47th in the country), 15th with 941 total team kills (12.55 per set), 15th with 885 total team assists (11.80 per set) and 32nd with 100 total team service aces (1.33 per set). Eastern Michigan also ranks second in the MAC and 20th in the country with 1,158 total team digs (15.44 per set). Junior outside hitter Jordan Smith leads the Eagles with 202 kills (2.73 per set) and ranks second in the MAC with 26 service aces (0.35 per set; sixth in the MAC). She is also third on the team with 174 digs (2.35 per set). Freshman outside hitter Franki Strefling ranks second on the squad with 191 kills (2.55 per set) and 190 digs (2.53 per set) and third with 18 service aces (0.24 per set). Sophomore setter Riley Taylor is second on the team in both service aces (23; 0.31 per set) and assists (365; 4.93 per set) and is sixth with 105 digs (1.42 per set). Eastern Michigan boasts three of the league's top blockers. Senior middle blocker Kelly Ferguson is 27th in the country with 80 total blocks (five solo, 75 assisted; 1.10 per set). She also ranks 32nd in the country with a .395 hitting percentage and is fourth on the team with 146 kills (2.00 per set). Senior middle blocker Samantha Falco is 34th in the country with 77 total blocks (11 solo, 66 assisted; 1.10 per set). Redshirt sophomore middle blocker/right side hitter Cassie Haunt ranks sixth in the MAC with 62 total blocks (one solo, 61 assisted; 0.84 per set) and is third on the team with 172 kills (2.32 per set). Redshirt junior setter Mallory Rajewski has dished out a team-high 429 assists (5.96 per set) and is also fourth on the team with 172 digs (2.39 per set). Junior defensive specialist/libero Alyssa LaFace is the team's top passer with 224 digs (4.98 per set). Before playing host to Ohio on Saturday, Eastern Michigan squares off against MAC West Division rival Central Michigan on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at the Convocation Center.
Ohio returns to Athens next weekend, hosting a pair of MAC West Division foes at the Convo. The Bobcats will take on Toledo next Friday (Oct. 13), then welcome Ball State on Saturday (Oct. 14). Both matches are set for 7 p.m. ET starts will be streamed live on ESPN3. The matchup with the Cardinals will serve as Ohio's Dig Pink match.