By Mike Ashcraft
ATHENS, Ohio -- The Ohio volleyball team (16-14, 10-6 MAC) enters the 2017 Mid-American Conference Championship as the No. 4 seed in the tournament, with the Bobcats looking to capture a 10 title. This year's league tournament is set to be held this weekend (Nov. 16-19) at Millett Hall in Oxford, Ohio.
As a top-four seed in the conference tournament, Ohio earned a bye to the second round, putting the Bobcats three wins away from capturing the league tournament title and the MAC's automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Championship field. Ohio will play either No. 5-seeded Buffalo (15-12, 8-8 MAC) or No. 8-seeded Eastern Michigan (15-17, 7-9 MAC) on Friday (Nov. 17) at 4:30 p.m. ET. The first-round match between the Bulls and the Eagles will be played on Thursday (Nov. 16) at 4:30 p.m. ET. The winner of Friday's second-round matchup will meet No. 1-seeded Miami (21-8, 13-3 MAC) on Saturday (Nov. 18) at 4:30 p.m. ET in the MAC semifinals. The MAC tournament championship match is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday (Nov. 19).
All league tournament matches will be streamed live on ESPN3. 'Voice of Ohio volleyball' Jake Hromada will have the call of the Bobcats' MAC tournament matches on OhioBobcats.com via StretchInternet's GameCentral.
THE ROAD TO OXFORD
Ohio overcame numerous injuries throughout the 2017 campaign to go 10-6 in MAC play and earn a top-four MAC Championship seed. The Bobcats won seven of their final nine MAC matches and have beaten each of the top three seeds during the regular season -- Miami, Bowling Green and Ball State. Ohio posted double-digit MAC wins for the 17th time in the last 18 seasons -- including each of the last 16 years.
OHIO IN THE MAC CHAMPIONSHIP
Ohio is 34-7 (.829) all-time in 16 previous MAC Championship appearances. The Bobcats have won the league tournament crown nine times, with the last coming in 2015.
Ohio's lone meeting against Buffalo in conference tournament play came in 2010, with the Bobcats earning a 3-0 (25-20, 25-22, 25-8) sweep. Ohio is 2-0 all-time in MAC Championship play against Eastern Michigan, posting a 3-2 (26-30, 30-18, 30-26, 29-31, 15-10) triumph in the 2006 quarterfinals and a 3-0 (25-15, 25-18, 25-19) sweep in the 2013 title match. The Bobcats are 3-1 (.750) against Miami in league tournament action. The 'Battle of the Bricks' archrivals have met twice in the MAC semis, with Ohio earning a 3-1 (20-25, 25-23, 25-16, 27-25) win in 2008 and a 3-0 (25-19, 25-19, 25-22) sweep in '10.
YOUNG BOBCATS EARN ALL-MAC HONORS
The Ohio volleyball team was well represented on the 2017 All-Mid-American Conference awards list, which was announced on Wednesday (Nov. 15) by the league office.
Freshman setter Vera Giacomazzi (San Vendemiano, Italy) was named MAC Setter of the Year, freshman middle blocker Tia Jimerson (Sugar Hill, Ga.) was named MAC Freshman of the Year and sophomore outside hitter Lizzie Stephens (Dallas, Texas) was named First Team All-MAC. Giacomazzi and Jimerson joined Stephens in garnering First Team All-MAC laurels and also represented the Bobcats on the All-MAC Freshman Team.
Giacomazzi becomes the second player in program history to be named MAC Setter of the Year, joining Abby Gilleland (2013, '14).
Through 30 matches in 2017, Giacomazzi leads the MAC and ranks 10th in the country with 1,204 assists (10.56 per set; fourth in the MAC) -- the most assists in a single season by an Ohio freshman in the rally scoring era in program history. She also ranks third on the team with 279 digs (2.45 per set) and 47 total blocks (two solo, 45 assisted; 0.41 per set) and is fifth with 18 service aces (0.16 per set). She has achieved 12 double-doubles to lead the team. In conference play, Giacomazzi finished with 708 assists (11.24 per set), 185 digs (2.94 per set, 29 total blocks (two solo, 27 assisted; 0.46 per set), 16 kills (0.25 per set) and 12 service aces (0.19 per set).
Jimerson becomes the fourth player in program history to be named MAC Freshman of the Year, joining Amanda Andersen (2005), Ellen Herman (2006) and Meredith Ashy (2012). Through 30 matches in 2017, Jimerson leads Ohio with 95 total blocks (22 solo, 73 assisted; 0.83 per set) and ranks second on the squad and fourth in the MAC with 386 kills (3.36 per set). Her .362 hitting percentage is third in the conference. She also ranks sixth on the team with 113 digs (0.98 per set) and has compiled five service aces (0.04 per set) and four assists (0.03 per set). Jimerson has tallied double-digit kills 20 times -- including 13 of the last 16 matches. She has recorded 10 matches in 2017 where she has hit .400 or better with double-digit kills. In conference play, Jimerson hit .381 with 229 kills (3.63 per set), 46 total blocks (15 solo, 31 assisted; 0.73 per set), 71 digs (1.13 per set), two service aces (0.03 per set) and three assists (0.05 per set).
Stephens garners First Team All-MAC honors for the first time in her career. Through 30 matches in 2017, Stephens currently leads the conference and ranks 36th in the nation with 425 kills (3.70 per set; fourth in the MAC). She also leads the league and ranks fourth in the country with 57 service aces (0.50 per set; first in the MAC, seventh in the country), which ranks as the most in a single season in the rally scoring era of the program's history. Stephens has posted double-digit kills a team-high 24 times for Ohio in 2017 -- including in 17 of the last 20 matches. She is also second on the team with 11 double-doubles. Stephens has set career highs in kills, service aces, digs (295; 2.57 digs per set), total blocks (36, nine solo, 27 assisted; 0.31 total blocks per set) and assists (12; 0.11 assists per set). In conference play, Stephens finished with 240 kills (3.81 per set), 36 service aces (0.57 per set), 161 digs (2.56 per set), 20 total blocks (seven solo, 13 assisted; 0.32 per set) and six assists (0.10 per set).
Giacomazzi, Jimerson and Stephens give Ohio 11 First Team All-MAC selections in four years under head coach Deane Webb. The selections of Giacomazzi and Jimerson to the All-MAC Freshman Team give Ohio four such honorees under Webb.