By Mike Ashcraft
ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio volleyball team (4-3) began life without senior outside hitter Jaime Kosiorek (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) in the lineup for the remainder of the 2017 season and also dealt with the absences of redshirt junior middle blocker Katie Nelson (Regina, Saskatchewan) and redshirt sophomore outside hitter Carley Remmers (Filley, Neb.) due to injury over the weekend at the Bobcat Invitational presented by Texas Roadhouse at the Convocation Center.
The results were mixed for the Bobcats as Ohio finished the Bobcat Invitational 1-2. On Friday (Sept. 1) morning, the Bobcats were swept by Georgia, 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-19) in a match in which Ohio admittedly played poorly but bounced back with a thrilling 3-2 (19-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-21, 15-7) come-from-behind win over Oklahoma. The Bobcats closed out the weekend by pushing 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 tournament.
Much of the focus outside Ohio's locker room since Kosiorek's injury last Tuesday (Aug. 29) in a tough 3-1 (28-26, 16-25, 25-8, 25-19) defeat at Dayton has centered on who wasn't available to play for the Bobcats. Now, according to fourth-year head coach Deane Webb, the time has come to shift the focus to who can help Ohio win now.
"Our opponents don't care that we're hurt," stated Webb. "In fact, some of them, if they're being really honest, are glad, because now your opponent is lessened. That's OK. That's being competitive. I'm not insulted by that in any way. That's just respecting your opponent. I told our team that it's going to be harder. Our potential, yes, we're lower. You don't lose this many starters. We're now down, currently, four projected starters, also known as two-thirds of your team. But, we have a chance to be a very good team. It's just going to have to take a lot of hard work. We're going to have to find some other places to get some points. We're going to have to prolong some rallies. People are going to have to play harder. And then, when we get those short rallies, we're certainly going to enjoy those. But, we're not going to feel sorry for ourselves. This is our team. Whoever is healthy, that's who we're going to play, and we're going to play hard. We're going to represent our fans well and our school well, and, if we do that, then we're going to be proud."
The injuries to Kosiorek and Remmers have thrust junior setter Stephanie Olman (Maumee, Ohio) over to outside hitter for the first time since she was in high school. Olman, who ranked third among Mid-American Conference players with a career-high 1,065 assists in 2016, responded with eight kills and an assisted block in Ohio's loss to High Point on Saturday in her first collegiate start at outside.
"It's just a different role," said Webb of Olman's transition from setter to outside hitter. "When you go from trying to make everybody else look good, trying to put them in good positions to all of a sudden, I'm the terminal attacker. I'm the one who has to win the points. I think she's enjoying it. When I was watching her face as she was going through it, she just seemed to really be enjoying it when she got out there and competed. She has to learn some of those things. It's just different, and it's not just the hitting piece. All your movements are in reverse now. She's used to blocking on the right, where you start here and swing block going to your right. You hardly ever block to your left when you're a setter. But, now, she's going to be blocking to her left every time, and it's against a faster set because now it's a slide. You're no longer blocking a person that's coming at you. Now, you're blocking a personal that's running parallel to the net, running a slide. There's just so many things that change, but I think she's off to a great start. She's always had a good arm, and that's what a lot of people outside of our gym don't know. We'll do drills, and we'll do attacking drills, and, as a setter, some days she wins those because she brings so much heat with her arm. I'm sure it surprised a lot of our fans to see a setter go up and really blast the ball. We knew she could do that. Now, it's just about learning angles. Can she get inside a ball and cut it off and drop her thumb and get into some different seams? But, she's plenty athletic enough to do it and has plenty enough arm, and we're just looking forward to seeing how she develops."
Ohio's retooled lineup also demands that it's defense picks up some of the slack. Sophomore libero Meredith Howe (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and freshman libero Macy Reihing (Lexington, Ky.) both stepped up and played well at the Bobcat Invitational.
Howe finished the weekend with 31 digs. Beyond the numbers, though, Howe made an impression with her energy and determination.
"She's a hustle kid," said Webb of Howe. "How many times did we see her make a play that we're like, 'Oh, the play's over,' and all of a sudden, she flies through and makes a play. My back's to the crowd, so I'm not seeing faces, but, every time she makes a play like that, you can just hear it. The whole crowd is like, 'Wow!' The whole room just reacts instantaneously when she does that. It's just great. What that does to your teammates is that you can't give anything else than one hundred percent effort when she's playing that hard or you look foolish. You have to play hard when you play next to somebody like that. What she gives our team is pretty amazing."
Meanwhile, Reihing put together her two best performances as a Bobcat thus far in the final two matches of the tournament. She tallied a career-high 25 digs over the win over the Sooners and followed it up with 20 more against the Panthers.
"She, in our last two matches, for the first time this year, played truly as a 'bro," said Webb of Reihing. "I think that's what we've been kind of waiting to see. One of the things we grade when we evaluate is what are our players stats during crunch time. In basketball, it's usually a certain amount of time on the clock. For us, it's after a certain point. After point 20 or later in every set, and after point 10 in the fifth set, she was passing at a 3.5 -- we use a four-point scale -- which is almost perfect. She's just a kid that when it gets big, she's totally calm. It was good to see her grow up a lot this weekend. I know for sure that's the best that she has played and the most just calm, consistent, which is what you need as a defense. You need to know that if that kid gets the ball, we're going to score. I think that she did that for a good part of the tournament."
The Bobcats now turn their attention to longtime rival Marshall (2-5), with Ohio playing host to the Thundering Herd on Tuesday (Sept. 5) at the Convo. The match is slated to begin at 6 p.m. ET. Jake Hromada, the voice of Ohio volleyball, and Gabe Genovesi will have the call of the action on ESPN3.
The Thundering Herd finished 1-2 at the Spartan Invitational in East Lansing, Mich., over the 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.
Led by 16th-year head coach Mitch Jacbos, Marshall was picked to finish fifth of 13 teams in Conference USA's preseason poll. The Thundering Herd have been led by their two Preseason All-Conference USA Team selections so far in 2017 -- sophomore outside hitter Jac'cara Walker and sophomore middle blocker Madison Hill. Walker leads Marshall with 88 kills (4.19 per set) and seven service aces (0.33 per set) while Hill ranks second with 67 kills (2.79 per set) and 19 total blocks (three solo, 16 assisted; 0.79 per set). Freshman middle blocker Addisyn Rowe leads the team with 21 total blocks (seven solo, 14 assisted; 1.00 per set). Sophomore setter Madelyn Cole has tallied a team-high 170 assists (7.08 per set) and is third on the squad with 18 total blocks (three solo, 15 assisted; 0.75 per set). Senior setter Kayla Simmons has dished out 84 assists (4.00 per set) and is tied for third on the team with four service aces (0.19 per set). Freshman defensive specialist Jessa Long has totaled a team-high 86 digs (3.58 per set) and also has tallied four service aces (0.17 per set).
"They have the potential to be very good," said Webb when asked for his assessment of Marshall. "They went five with Missouri. They were competitive with Michigan State. They're a really athletic team. They have the ability to score from a number of positions. They generally run a 6-2, so you have six attackers instead of five that you have to prepare for. They're an athletic group. They have a number of kids who play some different positions, so it's not maybe as traditional as middles only playing middle. They have different kids that will play some on the left, some in the middle, some on the right. They do some different things that are pretty creative. They're a well-coached team, and I think they play hard. We're looking forward to a good match against a really good team. We're going to have to play at a high level to be able to earn the win tomorrow."
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. Ohio and Marshall last faced off in Athens on Sept. 10, 2011, in the Baymont Inn & Suites Invitational -- a 3-0 sweep for the Bobcats. Ohio holds a 27-8 (.771) lead in the all-time series with Marshall.
Ohio's four-match homestand concludes with Tuesday's match against Marshall. The Bobcats will head to Charlottesville, Va., this weekend for the Jefferson Cup presented by Fairfield Inn & Suites. Ohio will take on Howard on Friday (Sept. 8) at 4 p.m. ET, then face VCU at 9:30 a.m. ET and host Virginia at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday (Sept. 9).