By Pete Nakos
ATHENS, Ohio -- Just six matches into the 2017 season, it wouldn't have been a stretch to say that the Ohio volleyball team found its season on the brink heading into the break after the second set of its Friday (Sept. 1) match against Oklahoma in the 2017 Bobcat Invitational presented by Texas Roadhouse.
The Bobcats were staring down eight-straight set losses and a second-straight sweep after being swept by Georgia, 3-0 (25-16, 25-21, 25-14) on Friday morning.
Ohio opened its match against the Sooners by hitting .205 (14 kills-six errors-39 total attacks) in the first set and .020 in the second (10 kills-nine errors-50 total attacks) and suffering defeats of six points and five points, respectively to go down 2-0. With just two upperclassmen at its disposal after losing senior outside hitter Jaime Kosiorek (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) and redshirt junior middle blocker Katie Nelson (Regina, Saskatchewan) to injuries earlier this week, Ohio was flustered and struggling with communication on the court. The Bobcats had to find a rhythm.
And find a rhythm they did, as Ohio (4-2) overcame the deficit and defeated Oklahoma (1-4), 3-2 (19-25, 20, 25-23, 25-21, 15-7).
"A great win for us tonight," said fourth-year head coach Deane Webb of his team's come-from-behind triumph. "I really thought in the first two sets our defense wasn't good, and our effort wasn't good. I think we were trying to figure out who we were. We have a couple kids out with injury. We got to that third set and kind of squeaked that one out, and, after that, we started flying around. We started making plays on defense and blocking balls."
It appeared as though Oklahoma was on its way to sweep when the Sooners jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the third set. Ohio put together a 16-9 run, though, to take an 18-17 edge, with three kills apiece by redshirt sophomore outside hitter Carley Remmers (Filley, Neb.) and sophomore outside hitter Lizzie Stephens (Dallas, Texas) and back-to-back service aces by sophomore libero Meredith Howe (Grand Rapids, Mich.) helping to spark the comeback. The Sooners scored six of the next 11 points, though, to put Oklahoma two points away from the sweep. With the score tied at 23-all, the Bobcats prevailed, however, with back-to-back kills by freshman middle blocker Tia Jimerson (Sugar Hill, Ga.) pushing the match to a fourth set.
Ohio carried the momentum from the third-set win into the start of the fourth, grabbing a quick 11-5 lead thanks in large part to double blocks by Jimerson and Remmers, Jimerson and freshman setter Vera Giacomazzi (San Vendemiano, Italy) and Stephens and Jimerson. Oklahoma fought back, though, with an 8-2 run that evened the score at 13-all. The Bobcats went back up by three at 18-15 courtesy of three kills by redshirt senior middle blocker Ali Lake (Liberty Township, Ohio) and back-to-back service aces by Stephens, but the Sooners scored three of the next four points to make it a one-point set. That's as close as the Bobcats allowed Oklahoma to get, with two kills by Stephens and service aces by sophomore outside hitter/libero Allyson Vaughn (Glenview, Ill.) and freshman libero Macy Reihing (Lexington, Ky.) pushing Ohio to a five-point victory and forcing a fifth and deciding set.
"That fourth set was just an impressive defensive performance," said Webb. "We had seven blocks and four aces, just in the fourth set. That was just a real dominant moment that just flipped the game."
It was all Bobcats in the fifth set, as Ohio hit .429 with eight kills and held Oklahoma to a -.133 hitting percentage and only three kills. Stephens came up with four kills and Jimerson and Remmers each added two, with Remmers' final kill ending the match.
Stephens led Ohio with a career-high 19 kills and five service aces. She also posted a career-high 18 digs and chipped in two assisted blocks and two assists. Jimerson logged a career-high 16 kills as well as a career-high eight total blocks (two solo, six assisted) to lead the match. She hit .452 for the match. Remmers finished with a career-high 13 kills and also recorded two assisted blocks and eight digs. Lake posted five kills, three total blocks (one solo, two assisted) and a dig. Giacomazzi handed out a career-high 53 assists and achieved her second career double-double with 12 digs to match her career high. She also had a kill and two assisted blocks. Reihing tallied a career-high 25 digs to lead the match. She also had a service ace and an assist. Howe contributed 11 digs and two service aces.
"It's definitely a team effort," said Jimerson. "Everyone had to step up, offensively and defensively, to help out both the front and back row."
Junior outside hitter Alyssa Enneking put together a big match to lead Oklahoma, finishing with a match-high 26 kills and achieving a double-double with 18 digs. She also totaled four assisted blocks and two service aces. Junior outside hitter Madison Drescher totaled 16 kills, two assisted blocks and three digs. Sophomore outside hitter Erin Dibble compiled 13 kills, six assisted blocks and a dig. Freshman outside hitter Sarah Maras led the Sooners with eight assisted blocks and recorded five kills, two digs and an assist. Junior setter Morgan Miller gave Oklahoma a double-double with a match-high 59 assists to go along with 10 digs. She also had two kills, a service ace and an assisted block. Freshman defensive specialist Kira Morikawa led Oklahoma with 22 digs and had two service aces.
Ohio will look to close out the Bobcat Invitational with two-straight wins when it takes on High Point (3-2) on Saturday (Sept. 2) in a 2 p.m. ET matchup at the Convo. Jake Hromada, the voice of Ohio volleyball, will have the call of the action on StretchInternet's GameCentral. The Panthers swept Oklahoma, 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-19) and defeated Georgia, 3-1 (25-22, 19-25, 25-18, 25-21) on Friday afternoon. Oklahoma and Georgia will open the final day of the Bobcat Invitational with an 11 a.m. ET match on Saturday.