By Mike Ashcraft
ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio volleyball team is 10 days into its 2017 preseason training at the Convocation Center. After working through position group sessions and full-squad practices for well over a week, the Bobcats are ready to take that next step toward the regular season.
Ohio is scheduled to host an exhibition match against Wheeling Jesuit on Thursday (Aug. 17) at 7 p.m. ET, then will hold its annual Green & White Scrimmage on Saturday (Aug. 19). Both events will take place at the Convo and are free for fans to attend.
"I know our team is excited about it," said fourth-year head coach Deane Webb of Ohio's upcoming preseason matches following morning practice on Wednesday (Aug. 16). "We were just talking about it earlier today. It's kind of an interesting rhythm in that, normally, most years, we would go two weeks and then have our intersquad scrimmage and then we would get ready to play someone. This year, we have this exhibition match, and then we do Green & White, so it's a little bit different in terms of actually having rotations out there and looking more at different lineups. That will be a little bit of a different feel for our players, but I know they're very much looking forward to playing someone else. We always are at this time of the year. Our gym has been really good, and our scrimmages have been good in here, but it should be better when you play someone else."
The Bobcats lost outside hitter/libero Mallory Salis to graduation after she piled up a team-high 363 kills and garnered First Team All-Mid-American Conference honors in 2016. 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) are all back for Ohio, though, and the trio accounted for 854 of the squad's 1,471 kills last season. So far, Webb has seen promise in his team's offensive outlook heading into 2017.
"I think, overall, we're attacking pretty well," said Webb. "I've been pleased with a lot of our serve receive-to-swing. That's something that we spent a fair amount of time on in the first week, just that first-ball contact so then we could start building from that."
Of course, the Bobcats are far from a finished product at this point.
"I would like to see us this week be quite a bit better on defense and transitioning from defense," said Webb. "We just finished a practice where we spent a great deal of time working on that. It's definitely not as far along as our serve receive-to-swing."
Wheeling Jesuit will provide Ohio with a competitive first test on Thursday. A member of NCAA Division II's Mountain East Conference, the Cardinals went 41-3 and reached the elite eight of the national tournament in 2016. The year before, Wheeling Jesuit swept Palm Beach Atlantic, 3-0, to capture the 2015 NCAA Division II national title in Tampa, Fla.
"They're a high-level opponent, and we're looking forward to them challenging us tomorrow," said Webb.
After the Wheeling Jesuit exhibition match on Thursday, the Green & White Scrimmage on Saturday will feature a day full of activities for fans of Ohio. Before the match, the team will host a free clinic for children in kindergarten through sixth grade from 1-2 p.m. ET. While the team warms up for the scrimmage, free activities such as face painting and cornhole will be taking place around the Convo, and the Bobcats will join in with their fans at 2:40 p.m. ET. Scrimmage action is set to get underway at 3 p.m. ET.
The exhibition match against Wheeling Jesuit and the Green & White Scrimmage will provide the Bobcats with the chance to play in front of their home crowd for the first time in 2017.
"It'll be a good environment," said Webb. "It won't be the same here without the band, obviously, and we won't have the same as maybe a normal home game, but it'll be good just to get some of those opening game jitters out and to play in front of other people. I think that's always helpful. I'm looking forward to seeing how they handle the different stresses of that. Some kids, the more people you put in the gym, the better they get. Some kids, the first couple of times, it can be a little overwhelming. I know they're looking forward to it."
Ohio's preseason prep work hasn't been solely focused on the physical aspects of playing volleyball. Webb and his coaching staff have implemented DiSC training, which is a personal assessment tool that is used to improve productivity, teamwork and communication. DiSC, which stands for dominance, influence, steadiness, conscientiousness, asks participants to complete a series of questions that produce a detailed report about personality and behavior. From that report, DiSC helps to facilitate better teamwork and minimize team conflict.
"I think it's awesome to understand behavior in itself and to understand yourself," said first-year volunteer assistant coach Danielle Davis. "This whole process allowed me to learn about how I'm actually coming off to people and communicating. It's really good to know how you're perceived as well as how others might be thinking about what you're saying. Everyone gets to know how everyone else operates, so that communication level can go through the roof if you really start utilizing your strengths."
While the Bobcats look to build upon their strengths, Webb is actually hoping the competitive settings the exhibition match and scrimmage provide will reveal something else in his team.
"Ideally, we'll expose weaknesses in ourselves," said Webb. "The more we can do that, the more we know exactly what we need to train and the more our kids buy into getting better at those weaknesses. We can all just operate in our place of strength and feel like we're better than we are, but the more we can expose those things -- either in our own gym or someone else exposing those -- the better it is. I tell our team, the first match of the year, we're just playing ball. They don't know us; we don't know them. We don't even know us at this point. From that day forward, it's a race for improvement. What team can improve the most from that day until the end of the year?"