#OhioVB: A pair of matches could define the Bobcats season this weekend as they play host to Western Michigan and Northern Illinois.
At the midway point of the conference season, Ohio’s year could boil down to this weekend’s matches.
The Convo will play host to what looks to be a pivotal weekend in deciding who brings home the Mid-American Conference regular season title.
Ohio (15-4, 8-0 MAC) welcomes Western Michigan and Northern Illinois, both of which currently sit within the top three teams in the MAC.
Winning the regular season in the MAC has become even more crucial, as the winner of the regular season goes on to host the conference tournament the next season. After winning the MAC last season, Ohio will become the first to host the tournament this year, as the rule took effect beginning this season. Before, the competition took place in Geneva, a neutral site used primarily for Olympic training events.
Both Western Michigan (15-8, 6-2 MAC) and Northern Illinois (15-7, 8-0 MAC) sit atop the MAC West. The Huskies, like the Bobcats, remain undefeated in conference play while the Broncos sit just two games behind them, tied with the Cardinals for second place in the West.
The Huskies lead the conference in kills (438) and hitting percentage (.268) in MAC play, while sitting within the top three teams in every statistical category except digs, where they place in the bottom half of the league.
Coach Deane Webb knows the attention will be geared toward the battle of the unbeatens on Saturday, but the Bobcats can’t overlook the two-loss Broncos.
“I believe — right now — (the Huskies are) the best offense in the MAC,” coach Deane Webb said. “We, right now, statistically have been the best defense. So, it will be an interesting matchup in that regard. But, again, we can’t for a second overlook Western Michigan.”
Each team has found success in different ways this season, as the Huskies primarily runs their offense through their middles as opposed to the Broncos, who go through their outside hitters. Redshirt senior Ali Gossen and freshman Alysia Baznik have led the way for Western Michigan, tallying almost 500 combined kills this season.
“They defend differently, they attack differently,” Webb said. “One thing they are very good at is offense … that’s a common theme, and they need their offense to be really good and so far it has been.”
This weekend is different from the previous four that Ohio has faced in terms of conference play because the Bobcats have to prepare for two teams that will challenge them. The past three weeks, they have played a team at the top of the MAC on Friday, before facing a team at the bottom of the conference on Saturday.
The Bobcats have swept their last three Saturday matches against Akron, Bowling Green and Toledo, who have combined for only three MAC wins this season.
Not only do the Bobcats face a tougher team on Saturday, but they will attempt to take down the only remaining unbeaten team in conference besides Ohio, in Northern Illinois.
The Huskies, like the Bobcats, have had little trouble against the bottom of the conference, but had two close this season at Eastern Michigan and Miami. The Eagles and Redhawks stretched the Huskies to five sets before finally closing them out in the final frame.
Once again, the Huskies will be challenged on the road as they will look to take the MAC title away from the Bobcats much like they did in 2012 when they beat Ohio in the MAC Tournament semi-finals, denying Ohio the chance to advance to the NCAA tournament.
Webb said he’s excited to host these two teams, as opposed to traveling to the tough road environments in the MAC West.
“You want every advantage that you can get,” Webb said. “They’re a good team at home and on the road, but when they are at home, it just seems like an entirely different level that they can play at, which is true of a lot of teams.”