By Mike Ashcraft
ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio volleyball team (11-13, 5-5 MAC) is back at the friendly confines of the Convocation Center this weekend, playing host to Mid-American Conference East Division rivals Akron (6-16, 2-8 MAC) on Friday (Oct. 27) and Buffalo (13-8, 6-4 MAC) on Saturday (Oct. 28). Both matches are scheduled for 7 p.m. ET start times and will be streamed live on ESPN3. 'Voice of Ohio volleyball' Jake Hromada and Gabe Genovesi will be on the call.
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.
The Bobcats look to begin their second tour of the schedule through the MAC East Division by going 2-0 on the weekend for first time in six weeks of league play. Ohio enters the weekend in eighth place in the conference standings. The top eight squads in the league will qualify for the 2017 MAC Championship, which is set to be held Nov. 16-19 in Oxford, Ohio.
"Whether we're winning every match or winning every other match like we're doing now, there's things we have to improve," said fourth-year head coach Deane Webb. "We need to be better next weekend than we are now. I think our team has shown the ability to compete with some of the better teams this year. When you go out and you beat Miami, who is winning the East, you beat Ball State, who was picked to win the West, you have some belief there. At the same time, we've lost to a couple of teams that don't have as many wins in conference. It very much just shows where we are in our inexperience in terms of we can be really good and we can be really bad, and that can sometimes fluctuate very quickly. I think the thing that we're really seeking is just finding consistency because we're 1-1 every weekend and we've done it five weekends in a row, which is kind of crazy. That's something that you can't go to the conference tournament and do that. You have to win three or four matches in a row, depending on what your seed is. We haven't really shown that ability yet, to string three or four matches together playing at a really high level. That's really our focus this whole week, is can we be more consistent going forward? We have to find a way to win two in a weekend before we can go to the conference tournament and really believe we can go and win three."
Ohio went 1-1 on the road last weekend against a pair of MAC West Division foes. The Bobcats picked up a key 3-1 (25-18, 25-23, 23-25, 25-20) win over Northern Illinois last Friday (Oct. 20) at Victor E. Court in DeKalb, Ill., but suffered a 3-1 loss (14-25, 25-16, 25-17, 25-19) loss to Western Michigan at University Arena in Kalamazoo, Mich., last Saturday (Oct. 21).
Freshman middle blocker Tia Jimerson (Sugar Hill, Ga.) once again led the charge for Ohio and garnered MAC East Division Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second week in a row for her efforts. She hit a team-best .480 and led the team with 30 kills (3.75 per set). She also recorded two total blocks (one solo, one assisted; 0.25 per set), one assist and one dig.
Through 24 matches in 2017, Jimerson leads Ohio with 75 total blocks (16 solo, 59 assisted; 0.79 per set) and ranks second on the squad and third in the MAC with 319 kills (3.36 per set). Her .352 hitting percentage is good for third-best in the conference. She also ranks fifth on the team with 109 digs (1.15 per set) and has compiled five service aces (0.05 per set) and four assists (0.04 per set). Jimerson has tallied double-digit kills 17 times -- including each of the last 10 matches. She has recorded eight matches in 2017 where she has hit .400 or better with double-digit kills.
Jimerson and her teammates face both Akron and Buffalo for a second time this season this weekend at the Convo.
Sophomore outside hitter Lizzie Stephens (Dallas, Texas) recorded a match-high 19 kills, and Jimerson hit .609 with 16 kills and added four total blocks (two solo, two assisted) to help Ohio pick up its first conference win of the 2017 season with a 3-1 (25-15, 18-25, 25-23, 25-23) victory over Akron on Sept. 23 at James A. Rhodes Arena. The Bobcats earned their 14th-straight win over the Zips. Ohio is now 35-23 (.603) all-time against Akron and posted a 3-0 (25-15, 25-23, 27-25) sweep of the Zips on Sept. 23, 2016, in Akron's last visit to the Convo.
The Bobcats could not capitalize on a first-set victory and fell to Buffalo, 3-1 (21-25, 25-21, 25-14, 25-17), in the opening match of 2017 league play on Sept. 22 at Alumni Arena in Amherst, N.Y. Jimerson ied for the team lead with 13 kills and hit at a .346 rate for the Bobcats. She also tallied an assisted block, a service ace and six digs. Stephens also posted 13 kills in addition to tying sophomore libero Meredith Howe (Grand Rapids, Mich.) for the team lead with two service aces and totaling six digs. Ohio dropped to 37-3 (.925) all-time against Buffalo with the loss. In the Bulls' last visit to Athens on Sept. 24, 2016, the Bobcats produced a 3-0 (25-22, 25-17, 25-22) sweep of Buffalo.
After hosting the Zips and the Bulls, Ohio will take to the road one last time in the 2017 regular season as it visits a pair of MAC East Division rivals. Ohio will take on Bowling Green next Friday (Nov. 3) at the Stroh Center before a 'Battle of the Bricks' last with archrival Miami on Saturday (Nov. 4) at Millett Hall in Oxford, Ohio.