Box Score (PDF)
By Mike Ashcraft
ATHENS, Ohio -- After missing 24-straight matches due to injury, redshirt junior middle blocker Katie Nelson (Regina, Saskatchewan) returned to the lineup and helped the Ohio volleyball team (15-14, 9-6 MAC) sweep Mid-American Conference East Division rival Kent State (5-21, 3-14 MAC), 3-0 (25-23, 25-23, 25-20) on Thursday (Nov. 9) at the Convocation Center.
The Bobcats clinched a spot in the 2017 MAC Championship field with the victory, marking the 16th year in a row Ohio will compete in the league tournament, which is slated to be held Nov. 16-19 at Millett Hall in Oxford, Ohio. With a win in their regular season finale in two days, Ohio will clinch at least the No. 4 seed in the league tournament and could finish as high as the No. 3 seed. Earning a top-four seed would guarantee Ohio a bye to the second round of the tournament next Friday (Nov. 17), putting the Bobcats three wins away from capturing the league tournament title and the MAC's automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Championship field.
"We normally talk about throughout the year just one step at a time," said fourth-year head coach Deane Webb. "We want to qualify for the tournament, then we want to talk about seed and then advancing and doing all those things. This year, all of that is condensed. We still control our own destiny as far as being a top-four seed. You can control if you get that bye, and that's pretty important for us. We could still finish as high as third if Ball State goes 1-1 and we go 2-0, we catch them and have the tiebreak. Ultimately, we're in, and that's important. We'd love to make it a 10-win MAC season. It's been an interesting year in many ways. To think that with all the adversity that this team has faced this year that we're still looking at getting a bye in the first round, that's great. I'm very happy for our team that they've been able to get through that. I think it says a lot about the team that we have, the group of young ladies on this team that chose to believe when maybe the results didn't give them that belief. They chose to believe anyway, and, now, we're going to postseason."
Ohio split the 2017 regular season series with Kent State with the victory and avenged a 3-2 (25-18, 25-12, 17-25, 27-29, 15-12) setback in the first meeting of the year between the two squads on Oct. 5 at the M.A.C. Center.
"We talked about at the beginning that they (Kent State) had nothing to lose or anything," said junior setter/outside hitter Stephanie Olman (Maumee, Ohio). "Kent always brings a great game against us, so that's why we were ready for their best game."
Sophomore outside hitter Lizzie Stephens (Dallas, Texas) led the match with 14 kills and achieved her 11th double-double of the year with 15 digs. She also had a service ace and an assisted block. Junior setter/outside hitter Stephanie Olman (Maumee, Ohio) recorded 10 kills, an assisted block and a dig. Nelson hit .375 for the match with seven kills and led the match with three total blocks (one solo, two assisted). Freshman middle blocker Tia Jimerson (Sugar Hill, Ga.) hit at a .250 pace with six kills. She also had an assisted block. Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Carley Remmers (Filley, Neb.) finished the match with six kills, two total blocks (one solo, one assisted) and seven digs. Freshman setter Vera Giacomazzi (San Vendemiano, Italy) dished out a team-high 37 assists and also logged a kill, a solo block, a service ace and seven digs. Freshman libero Macy Reihing (Lexington, Ky.) led the team with 16 digs and also notched a service ace and an assist.
"It was awesome," said Nelson of her return to the court. "Everyone welcomed me back with big, open arms. When the fans cheered really loud for me when they announced my name, I teared up a little bit."
Kent State was led by a 12-kill effort by senior outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger, who also achieved a double-double with 13 digs and tallied an assist. Sophomore middle blocker Myla King hit .350 with 10 kills and also had an assisted block. Senior setter Brittany Jakscht distributed a match-high 40 assists and also totaled two kills and seven digs. Senior defensive specialist/libero Challen Geraghty compiled a match-high 19 digs and added an assist. Sophomore defensive specialist/libero Claire Tulisiak finished with 13 digs while junior outside hitter Lexi Mantas posted 11 digs in additon to seven kills, a service ace and an assisted block.
The opening set saw Kent State jump out to a 15-10 lead as the Golden Flashes took advantage of eight Ohio attack errors. The Flashes forced the Bobcats to burn a timeout when Kent State took a 21-18 lead after two kills by Bittinger and kills by freshman middle blocker/right side hitter Naomi Oberg and senior opposite hitter Heather Younkin. Ohio clawed back, though, and tied the set at 22-all thanks to a kill by Nelson and two more by Remmers, forcing Kent State to call timeout. The Bobcats then pulled out a two-point set win thanks to an attack error and a service error by Kent State and a kill by Stephens.
The Bobcats grabbed control of the second set in the early going, taking an 11-7 lead with three kills and a service ace by Stephens, two kills by Olman, a kill by Jimerson and a double block by Nelson and Stephens. Kent State countered with an 8-3 run to snatch a 15-14 edge, though, utilizing double blocks by Younkin and King and Younkin and Oberg and kills by King, Mantas, Younkin and Bittinger. The Golden Flashes forced Ohio to call timeout as three kills by Bittinger and kills by Mantas and Younkin gave Kent State a 20-19 lead. The Bobcats rallied again, though, taking advantage of kills by Stephens, Nelson and Olman to take a 23-22 lead and force the Golden Flashes to call timeout. Ohio then took a 2-0 match lead thanks to a Kent State attack error and a kill by Olman.
Ohio raced out to an 11-4 lead to start the third set, forcing the Golden Flashes to call timeout after a pair of kills by both Jimerson and Olman, kills by Nelson and Stephens and a service ace by sophomore outside hitter/libero Allyson Vaughn (Glenview, Ill.). Kills by Jackscht and Bittinger, a service ace by Mantas and three attack errors by the Bobcats allowed Kent State to pull within one at 11-10, but Ohio responded with an 11-6 run to take a 22-16 lead and force Kent State to use its second timeout of the set. Three kills and a solo block by Nelson and three kills apiece by Olman and Stephens in the third helped Ohio earn a five-point set victory and a match sweep.
Ohio concludes the 2017 regular season by hosting MAC West Division foe Central Michigan (15-12, 7-8 MAC) on Saturday (Nov. 11) in a 7 p.m. ET Senior Night Match at the Convo. The Chippewas are coming off of a 3-2 (19-25, 20-25, 25-20, 27-25, 19-17) setback at home to MAC West Division rival Eastern Michigan on Thursday in Mount Pleasant, Mich. Prior to the match against Central Michigan, the Bobcats will honor the career of redshirt senior middle blocker Ali Lake (Liberty Township, Ohio) -- the team's lone departing senior. Saturday's match will be streamed live on ESPN3, with 'Voice of Ohio volleyball' Jake Hromada and Gabe Genovesi on the call.