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Shelby Walker, Junior for the Ohio Bobcats spikes the ball at her opponent from Texas A&M. The Bobcats lost their season home opener in 3 straight sets Friday evening. 

Volleyball: ’Cats turn focus to MAC play

After completing a challenging non-conference yet again, the Bobcats shift rolls from the hunter to the hunted.

Playing ranked teams in the non-conference season has become the norm for Ohio.

Since building a foundation for the program a decade ago, the Bobcats have swiftly gained the attention of those around the nation. This year’s non-conference slate offered strength and depth throughout, challenging Ohio from their first set in Hawaii to their final set at Northwestern.

The Bobcats’ opponents in their four losses are ranked in the Top 25 or have at least received votes. After Northwestern beat Ohio in five sets last Thursday, it is on the verge of cracking the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. Hawaii, Arizona State and Texas A&M have already been in the poll for multiple weeks.

With all the aforementioned teams hovering between No. 19 to No. 25 in the country, it has done wonders for the Bobcats’ RPI.

“The last I saw coming into this weekend we had a (Rich Kern Percentage Index) of 25 and that’s great,” coach Deane Webb said “It’s really what you want coming out of that schedule.”

Ohio is no stranger to these high-level opponents, as over the past three seasons Ohio has played 10 ranked opponents. The Bobcats are 2-8 in those games with wins over Oregon and Western Kentucky. These wins both came a season ago on the opponent’s floor as Ohio swept the sets in both matches.

This season however, the Bobcats (7-4) were unable to follow up their success from a year ago.

“There are some teams in the Mid-American Conference that are more physically dominant than us and there are probably some that are less athletic,” Webb said. “I don’t know, I haven’t seen all of them yet, but we always want to outwork our opponents and we want to win every point. Those are some of the lessons we learned and it’s important we take them forward.”

As Ohio enters conference play, the target is squarely on its back as the team was picked to win the MAC after winning both the regular season and tournament titles a season ago.

The Bobcats return to The Convo on Thursday for the start of MAC play against Kent State, which enters Athens limping after losing all three of its matches last weekend. The Golden Flashes (8-5) have gone on a five- and a three-match winning streaks and will look to begin their next streak Thursday.

In the teams’ first meeting last season, the Bobcats weren’t able to shut down junior outside hitter Kelly Hutchinson, who had 22 kills.

“They’ll challenge us just like a lot of teams in the MAC do,” Ohio junior setter Abby Gilleland said. “They want to beat Ohio and we are used to having a target on our back and we get excited to play them.”

Webb sees Thursday as an opportunity for revenge, but not all feel that way after the Bobcats defeated the Golden Flashes later in the season, as well as in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament.

“We got a little bit of revenge on them last year,” Gilleland said. “As long as we play well that will be enough for us.”


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