Prior to attending Ohio State I never really paid much attention to women’s volleyball, I knew the sport existed but had never attended or watched a game on any level, well maybe a random game televised as part of the Olympics but certainly nothing that stuck in my memory. After arriving on campus I joined the Ohio State athletic band which plays at women’s volleyball games in the fall and thus, less than two weeks after the start of classes, I found myself attending my first women’s volleyball game. At first the only part of this that I was excited about was the chance to perform in an OSU band and well, the uniforms. However after having attended several games I found myself really enjoying the sport. The players are very talented athletes, the game is fast paced and energetic, and the proximity of the fans to the court makes it really easy to feel like you are part of the action and influencing the game. Over the years I became a big fan of OSU women’s volleyball and make sure I catch a game whenever I’m back in Columbus or when they are shown on television.
Last season Ohio State finished ranked 23rd in the country after posting a 21-15 record. The Buckeyes advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 where they fell to Big Ten foe Illinois.
Ohio State returns five starters from last year’s squad; Senior middle blocker Mariah Booth, Senior outside hitters Emily Danks and Mari Hole, Junior libero/defensive specialist Davionna DiSalvatore, and Senior setter Amanda Peterson. Danks was a 2011 All-American honorable mention and an All-Big Ten honorable mention; this year she was selected to the Preseason All-Big Ten team.
On the offensive end the Buckeyes look to be loaded as most of last seasons producers are back again. Four of the top five players in the kills category return; overall the returning players accounted for 85% of th team’s kills last season. Both primary setters, Amanda Peterson and Taylor Sherwin, return as do two of the top 3 servers. Overall the returning members of the team accounted for 84% of the points scored last season so I would expect that not only will the offense not miss a beat and should become one of the top offenses in the conference.
Defense will be the question mark for Ohio State as they lost their top blocker in Kelli Barhorst and their best digger in Sarah Mignin. The job of replacing Barhorst at middle blocker will fall on sophomore Anna Faul and freshmen Andrea Kacsits and Alex Heyn. Faul saw little playing time last season and her stats were marginal but expect those to improve as she sees more action. Freshmen Kacsits and Heyn are the tallest members of the team at 6’4″ and will add impressive size to the middle of the Buckeye line. The job of replacing libero/defensive specialist Sarah Mignin will primarily fall on sophomore Alyssa Winner who saw decent playing time last season and finished fourth on the team in digs per set.
The Big Ten coaches selected OSU to finish 6th in the preseason poll, an improvement of one spot over their seventh place finish last year. At the top of the preseason poll were the perenial national title contenders Nebraska (the defending conference champ) and Penn State. Purdue was put in the third spot with Minnesota and Illinois coming in at 4th and 5th. Overall the Big Ten promises to be very tough as the conference has 7 teams ranked in the AVCA Preseason Poll. Penn State is ranked 3rd in the poll with Nebraska (4th), Illinois (7th), and Purdue (9th) all being ranked in the top 10. Minnesota (16th), Michigan (23rd), and Ohio State (24th) give the Big Ten more ranked teams than any other conference.
The number of ranked teams in the Big Ten shows just how tough the conference schedule will be. The Big Ten plays 20 conference games and thus each team plays 9 teams twice in the season and 2 teams just once. The conference scheduling computers did not do the Buckeyes any favor by selecting Michigan State and Michigan as the teams that OSU will only face once; both the Spartans and the Wolverines are expected to finish in the bottom half of the conference.
Ohio State returns an experienced team led by four seniors who will be motivated to end their college careers on a high note. The Buckeye offense will be good enough to beat pretty much anyone but the defense will need some younger players to step up to not only replace the loss of two key defenders but to also improve a defense that was middle-of-the-road last season. The opening week matchup against 20th ranked Oregon will be a major indicator of how the team has improved over the offseason. The Big Ten is ridiculously strong this year and the conference season will be a buzzsaw and 12 wins in Big Ten play would be a good accomplishment. The tough conference competition will serve as great preparation for the NCAA tournament and another trip to the Sweet 16 is expected with the Buckeyes having a good shot at at least the Elite 8 if the younger players can step-up