By Mike Ashcraft
ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio volleyball team (5-3) fought for a 3-1 (25-23, 25-22, 11-25, 25-21) win over longtime rival Marshall on Tuesday (Sept. 5) at the Convocation Center.
Ohio improved to 28-8 (.778) all-time against Marshall with the victory.
The Bobcats overcame 28 attack errors to earn the four-set triumph over the Thundering Herd.
"We hit 20 balls out of bounds, so we definitely created a lot of challenges for ourselves this evening," said fourth-year head coach Deane Webb. "But, it does say a lot that at the critical moments late in sets, we had some really good swings. It just says a lot that when their best is needed, even if it hasn't been great all night, they can come up with that.
Sophomore outside hitter Lizzie Stephens (Dallas, Texas) led Ohio's attack with a match-high 17 kills and a team-high three service aces. She also tallied eight digs and two total blocks (one solo, one assisted). Freshman middle blocker Tia Jimerson (Sugar Hill, Ga.) hit .367 for the Bobcats and racked up 16 kills. She also tied for the match lead with three assisted blocks and recorded a service ace and three digs. Sophomore middle blocker Sara Januszewski (Oak Creek, Wis.) logged eight kills, two assisted blocks and two digs.
"I'm enjoying my time out there, and I'm just trying to make the best of it and do what I can for the team," said Januszewski, who has stepped into the starting lineup the last four matches after redshirt junior middle blocker Katie Nelson (Regina, Saskatchewan) suffered an injury. "Katie's always giving me tips and trips and (redshirt senior middle blocker) Ali (Lake) as well. "She's out there at the front telling me who to keep my eye on and what spots are open on the court."
Freshman setter Vera Giacomazzi (San Vendemiano, Italy) dished out a match-high 46 assists and also tallied a kill, three assisted blocks to match Jimerson for the team lead and six digs.
"I think our setter is really steady," said Webb of Giacomazzi. "She doesn't get too high or too low, and that tends to calm people around you. When you're in a moment that could be a really high-tension moment, you want someone that you just look at her and (know) we're ok. That's just her mentality."
Freshman libero Macy Reihing (Lexington, Ky.) piled up a match-high 18 digs and also chipped in a service ace and an assist.
Ohio prevailed in a tight opening set. The Bobcats used a Marshall attack error, a service ace by Jimerson and a kill by Stephens to grab a 13-10 lead and force the Herd to burn a timeout. Marshall responded by taking a one-point edge courtesy of a kill by senior middle blocker Justice Craft, back-to-back Ohio attack errors and a service ace by sophomore defensive specialist Amber Weber. Neither team managed to establish a lead of more than a point over a span of 15-straight points until Marshall took a 22-20 lead off a double block by freshman middle blocker Addisyn Rowe and Craft. Stephens took over for the Bobcats from there, however, posting two kills and two service aces to push Ohio to a two-point victory. She finished the first set with five kills to help lead Ohio to a 1-0 lead in the match.
Marshall built a 15-14 edge going into the media timeout in the second set. Four kills by sophomore middle blocker Madison Hill, three by sophomore outside hitter Ja'cara Walker and two by Craft helped the Thundering Herd grab a slight lead. The Bobcats used back-to-back double blocks by Januszewski and Giacomazzi and Januszewski and Lake, kills by Lake, sophomore setter/outside hitter Stephanie Olman (Maumee, Ohio) and Jimerson and a service ace by sophomore libero Meredith Howe (Grand Rapids, Mich.) to take a 21-20 lead and force Marshall to call timeout, though. The Herd tied it back up on a kill by Craft, but Ohio grabbed a 2-0 lead in the match thanks to two kills by Stephens, a double block by Jimerson and Giacomazzi and a kill by Jimerson.
The Thundering Herd forced a fourth set, though, with a 14-point win in the third. Marshall hit .579 with 13 kills while holding Ohio to a .071 hitting percentage. Walker led Marshall with four kills while Hill and junior outside hitter Lauren Mattmuller each added three. Hill also contributed two total blocks (one solo, one assisted). Sophomore setter Madelyn Cole provided the Thundering Herd with three service aces.
The Bobcats shrugged off the lopsided loss in the third set and jumped out to a 7-4 lead in the fourth, utilizing two kills by Jimerson and one apiece from Olman and Stephens to force Marshall to call timeout. Four more kills and a solo block by Stephens, three kills by Jimerson and a double block by Jimerson and Giacomazzi helped Ohio earn a five-point lead at 22-17. The Herd did not go away quietly, though, as kills by Walker, senior outside hitter Taylor Pelton and Cole cut the Bobcats' edge down to two at 23-21 and forced Ohio to burn its final timeout of the set. Lake and Stephens closed the victory out for the Bobcats, though, thanks to back-to-back kills to end the match. Stephens finished the fourth set with six kills while Jimerson added five more.
"At 23-21 in the fourth set, it was one of those moments where we had a decent lead, and it was getting smaller and smaller," said Webb. "I'd burned both my timeouts. At 23-21, we really needed that point. We passed a perfect ball, and we had a play designed primary to the middle, secondary to our opposite, and Vera saw the middle making a slight move to the right, froze the middle, went back. Ali had a great, great swing -- probably her best one of the night -- at the most important time."
Despite not being the prettiest win at times, Ohio's ability to earn big points when it had to have them against Marshall is a positive sign moving forward for the young Bobcats.
"It says a lot, especially having so many injuries on the team," said Januszewski of her team's hard-fought win. "We've had to work a lot in practice just to really fight and be gritty and go out with a mentality that we should be running around for balls and being aggressive."
Ohio will head to Charlottesville, Va., this weekend for the Jefferson Cup presented by Fairfield Inn & Suites. The Bobcats 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).