By Mike Ashcraft
ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio volleyball team (10-12, 4-4 MAC) opens the second half of 2017 Mid-American Conference play on the road, visiting West Division foes Northern Illinois (5-18, 4-4 MAC) on Friday (Oct. 20) at Victor E. Court in DeKalb, Ill., and Western Michigan (12-7, 4-4 MAC) on Saturday (Oct. 21) at University Arena in Kalamazoo, Mich. Friday's match is slated for an 8 p.m. ET start while Saturday's contest will begin at 7 p.m. ET. A live video stream of Friday's match against the Huskies will be available via NIU All-Access while Saturday's match against the Broncos will be streamed live on ESPN3.
The Bobcats are currently .500 through eight league matches and are tied for seventh with Northern Illinois in the overall league standings. The top eight squads will qualify for the 2017 MAC Championship, which is set to be held Nov. 16-19 in Oxford, Ohio. Through eight MAC matches, the Bobcats have tallied 457 kills (13.06 per set), 56 service aces (1.60 per set), 65 total blocks (23 solo, 84 assisted; 1.86 per set), 435 assists (12.43 per set) and 634 digs (18.11 per set).
Ohio is coming off a fourth-straight conference weekend in which it split a pair of matches as the Bobcats went 1-1 against a pair of MAC West Division foes at the Convocation Center. The Bobcats pushed the match to five sets but ultimately fell to Toledo, 3-2 (17-25, 25-21, 25-22, 22-25, 19-17), last Friday (Oct. 13). Ohio bounced back, though, by sweeping MAC West Division preseason favorite Ball State, 3-0 (25-22, 25-16, 25-18), in front of over 500 fans on the program's 2017 Dig Pink night on Saturday (Oct. 14).
Freshman middle blocker Tia Jimerson (Sugar Hill, Ga.) was named MAC East Division Offensive Player of the Week for the first time in her career on Monday (Oct. 16) as a result of her performance for Ohio last weekend. She hit a team-best .400 and ranked second on the team with 31 kills (3.88 per set). She also recorded three assisted blocks (0.38 per set) and three digs (0.38 per set). Jimerson hit .441 and led the match with 19 kills as Ohio fell to Toledo. She also tallied an assisted block and three digs. Jimerson then hit at a .346 rate with 12 kills and also had two assisted blocks as the Bobcats swept Ball State.
Through 22 matches in 2017, Jimerson leads Ohio with 73 total blocks (15 solo, 58 assisted; 1.24 per set) and ranks second on the squad and third in the MAC with 289 kills (3.32 per set). Her .341 hitting percentage is good for third-best in the conference. She also ranks fifth on the team with 108 digs (1.24 per set) and has compiled five service aces (0.06 per set) and three assists (0.03 per set). Jimerson has tallied double-digit kills 15 times -- including each of the last eight matches. She has recorded seven matches in 2017 where she has hit .400 or better with double-digit kills. In conference play, she leads Ohio with 132 kills (3.77 per set), is hitting a team-best .349 and ranks second on the squad with 24 total blocks (eight solo, 16 assisted; 0.69 per set).
Sophomore outside hitter Lizzie Stephens (Dallas, Texas) has made her mark as Ohio's top attacker. She currently leads the conference and ranks 34th in the nation with 315 kills (3.62 per set; fifth in the MAC). She also leads the league and ranks seventh in the country with 40 service aces (0.46 per set; first in the MAC, 21st in the country), which is good for sixth-most in a single season in the rally scoring era of the program's history. Stephens has posted double-digit kills a team-high 18 times for Ohio in 2017 -- including in 11 of the last 12 matches. She is also tied for the team lead with nine double-doubles. Stephens, who missed much of her freshman campaign in 2016 due to injury, has already set career highs in kills, service aces, digs (227; 2.61 digs per set), total blocks (27, six solo, 21 assisted; 0.31 total blocks per set) and assists (10; 0.11 assists per set).
With senior outside hitter Jaime Kosiorek (Chagrin Falls, Ohio), redshirt senior middle blocker Ali Lake (Liberty Township, Ohio) and redshirt junior middle blocker Katie Nelson (Regina, Saskatchewan) all missing time this season due to injuries, the Bobcats have been forced to turn to other players to help fill the voids.
Junior Stephanie Olman (Maumee, Ohio) has made the move from setter to outside hitter and has made an impact for the Bobcats at her new position. She ranks third on the team in conference play with 89 kills (2.54 per set) and 17 total blocks (four solo, 13 assisted; 0.49 per set). In last Saturday's sweep of Ball State, Olman hit a career-best .267 with 12 kills and matched her career high four assisted blocks. Overall in 2017, Olman has set a new career high with 119 kills (1.72 per set), which is good for fourth on the team.
Sophomore middle blocker/outside hitter Sara Januszewski (Oak Creek, Wis.) ranks second on the team with a career-high 53 total blocks (seven solo, 46 assisted; 0.67 per set) and third with 124 kills (1.57 per set). In conference play, she leads the team with 30 total blocks (five solo, 25 assisted; 0.86 per set). She has tallied five or more total blocks on four occasions this year -- including each of the last three matches.
Through 22 matches in 2017, freshman setter Vera Giacomazzi (San Vendemiano, Italy) is making a compelling argument for being the league's top player at her position. She leads the MAC and ranks ninth in the country with 891 assists (10.36 per set; fifth in the MAC). She also ranks third on the team with 211 digs (2.45 per set) and 33 total blocks (one solo, 32 assisted; 0.38 per set) and tied for third with 13 service aces (0.15 per set). She has achieved nine double-doubles to tie Stephens for the team lead -- including five in a row.
Freshman libero Macy Reihing (Lexington, Ky.) enjoyed perhaps her best weekend as a Bobcat last weekend at the Convo, leading the team with 52 digs (6.50 per set) and adding six assists (0.75 per set). Reihing totaled a team-high 25 digs and also had a service ace and two assists in last Friday's loss to Toledo, then followed that performance up by achieving a career-high by leading the match with 27 digs as the Bobcats swept Ball State. Her passing helped Ohio hit at a .278 clip as a team against the Cardinals. Reihing leads Ohio with 325 digs (3.96 per set) in 2017.
Ohio will need its young roster to continue to step up in order to secure its first 2-0 weekend in conference play on the road this weekend.
The all-time series between Ohio and Northern Illinois is dead even at 18-18. The Bobcats and the Huskies last met on Nov. 19, 2016, in DeKalb in the 2016 MAC Championship Semifinals, with the No. 2-seeded Huskies ending Ohio's season with a 3-0 (25-21, 25-16, 25-19) sweep en route to capturing the league tournament crown. The last regular season meeting between Ohio and Northern Illinois took place on Oct. 21, 2016, at the Convo, with the Huskies prevailing, 3-2 (25-20, 25-23, 18-25, 17-25, 15-9). Ray Gooden is in his 16th season as the head coach at Northern Illinois. The Huskies bounced back from a 3-0 (25-23, 25-14, 25-19) loss at the hands of Buffalo in Amherst, N.Y. last Friday with a 3-2 (25-22, 19-25, 25-20, 20-25, 15-11) triumph at Akron the following day. Freshman outside hitter Kaylee Martin leads Northern Illinois with 288 kills (3.65 per set) -- good for fourth in the MAC. Junior middle blocker Meg Wolowicz leads the squad with 83 total blocks (12 solo, 71 assisted; 0.98 per set), which ranks fourth in the conference, and also ranks second on the team with 205 kills (2.41 per set). Senior setter Chandler Kinley has distributed a team-high 648 assists (7.62 per set). Senior defensive specialist/libero Anna Brereton ranks sixth in the MAC with a team-high 359 digs (4.22 per set) and has also tallied a team-high 15 service aces (0.18 per set).
Ohio trails in the all-time series with Western Michigan, 30-22. The Bobcats earned a 3-0 (25-9, 25-23, 25-23) sweep of the Broncos in the last meeting between the two programs on Oct. 22, 2016, at the Convo. Ohio's last trip to Kalamazoo came on Oct. 23, 2015, with the Bobcats outlasting Western Michigan, 3-1 (25-18, 22-25, 25-23, 25-23). Colleen Munson has served as the head coach of the Broncos since 2006. Her squad has limited opponents to a MAC-best .162 hitting percentage, which is good for 26th in the country. Western Michigan is hitting a .214 pace, which ranks third in the league, and has totaled 1,008 kills (13.44 per set), which is fifth in the conference. The Broncos split a pair of matches on the road against MAC East Division foes last weekend. Western Michigan earned a 3-1 (25-16, 14-25, 25-23, 26-24) win at Akron last Friday but fell to Buffalo the following day, 3-1 (23-25, 25-16, 25-23, 25-19) in Amherst, N.Y. Sophomore right side hitter/middle blocker Quiana Ware leads the team with 228 kills (3.04 per set) and also ranks third on the squad with 46 total blocks (three solo, 43 assisted; 0.61 per set) and 17 service aces (0.23 per set). Freshman outside hitter Rachel Bontrager is second on the squad with 227 kills (3.03 per set) and leads the team with 20 service aces (0.27 per set). Senior middle blocker Sydney LeMay leads Western Michigan with 62 total blocks (15 solo, 47 assisted; 0.83 per set), is second on the team with 18 service aces (0.24 per set) and ranks third with 225 kills (3.00 per set). Senior middle blocker Olivia Kofie ranks second on the team with 50 total blocks (10 solo, 40 assisted; 0.67 per set). Junior setter Mary Murphy is second in the MAC with 794 assists (10.59 per set). Sophomore defensive specialist/libero Kathleen Reilly is fifth in the league with 382 digs (5.09 per set). Before hosting Ohio on Saturday, Western Michigan will welcome MAC East Division foe Kent State to University Arena for a 7 p.m. ET matchup on Friday.
Ohio will be back at the friendly confines of the Convo next weekend, playing host to MAC East Division rivals Akron on Friday (Oct. 27) and Buffalo on Saturday (Oct. 28). Both matches are scheduled for 7 p.m. ET start times. The first 250 students in attendance on Friday will receive free Domino's Pizza. Saturday's contest will serve as the Bobcats' Halloween Spook 'n' Spike Match, with $2 admission for anyone who wears a costume to the Convo.