Bobcats hope home court gives them the advantage they need to take win the MAC title
The Mid-American Conference hasn’t had two representatives in the NCAA Tournament since 2011 when it sent four teams.
This year it seems like the MAC will be a one-bid league for the third straight year unless someone can knock off Ohio. The Bobcats finished the season undefeated, allowing only Miami to take them to a fifth set.
Ohio is the only team in the conference with a chance to receive an at-large bid. The Bobcats are ranked 39th in RPI with the next closest being Northern Illinois, which is ranked 100th nationally.
The other teams in the MAC have dragged down Ohio’s ranking because they have weaker strengths of schedule, which accounts for part of the formula that makes up the RPI.
“Winning the regular season is nice, but that’s not all what we’re about,” coach Deane Webb said. “We’re here to win our conference tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament. Every year is different; every set of circumstances is different. What’s important is that we go into this weekend and focus on our side.”
Although the likes of Northern Illinois and Miami hold what seem to be good records, both are ranked outside the top 100 because of their non-conference slate. The numbers show Ohio is seemingly holding up a weak conference this season.
That makes this weekend ever more important for the Bobcats, who will look to return to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
“It will kind of be an added bonus to how this season has been going,” junior setter Abby Gilleland said. “We talk about wanting to improve throughout the year, and I think that will be a true representation of how we have improved. We’ll be peaking at the end of the season and that’s always the hope.”
The Bobcats will look to defend their title on their home floor — a right they earned a season ago by winning the MAC regular season title. This is a change from how the tournament has gone the past few seasons. From 2011-13, the tournament was held at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio.
With the tournament no longer at a neutral site, the Bobcats will have a strategic advantage heading into the weekend. That means they can sleep in their own beds while their opponents must settle for hotels.
The Convo has not been an inviting atmosphere for visiting teams this season as Ohio has only lost one match there. That came in the first home match of the season when the Bobcats lost to Texas A&M in three sets.
“I think we have a strong home court advantage,” Gilleland said. “I just think our fans, our community and our band is a huge part of Ohio volleyball, and that’s why a lot of us came here. It brings great pride to know we have such a strong home-court advantage. We have to prepare like it’s any other week like it’s not in our home gym.”
Home has especially been an advantage for Ohio in MAC play, as it has only dropped three sets at home. When the other top four seeds visited Athens, none were able to take a set from the Bobcats because they raised their game in front of The Convo crowd.
“I think our team has showed this year that they have played better the bigger the game is,” Webb said. “When our team has struggled it has been against teams a little further down in the conference standings and that’s a good thing going into the postseason because only good teams are here. For the rest of the season, there won’t be an opponent that won’t motivate us to be good.”