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The Bobcats shake hands with Western Michigan after the Broncos came back to win three straight sets and beat Ohio 3-2 in their MAC Conference semi final match on Sunday at the Convocation Center. 

TOP-SEED BOBCATS UPSET IN MAC TOURNAMENT

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On the brink of punching their ticket to another Mid-American Conference Championship match, the Bobcats collapsed.

Despite jumping out to a two-set lead, top-seeded Ohio couldn’t clinch a victory in the semifinals. No. 5 Western Michigan won the next two sets to tie the match and clinched the victory in a tense 16-14 fifth set — only the Bobcats’ second of the season against a MAC opponent. 

Not only does the loss knock Ohio (23-5) out of the MAC Tournament, it ended a 17-match winning streak and was the first loss the Bobcats suffered to a MAC opponent this season. 

“I think they came in a little more fatigued, and we came in a little bit more well rested,” junior setter Abby Gilleland said. “They have been playing two competitive games over two days and they got a chance to work on some things. They were able to get used to playing in the tournament setting and the environment.”

The Bobcats, which were ranked No. 24 in the nation in last week’s national poll, had some rust to knock off in the first set after they had not played in more than a week, so they struggled to get in an offensive rhythm early. Ohio finally found its stride when it turned to senior outside hitter Kelly Lamberti, who recorded seven of her 21 kills in the first set.

Lamberti had 68 attacks on the night, as Gilleland had no choice but to feed the hand of her fellow captain, as Ohio found little success going to the middle. Ohio also relied upon freshman outside hitter Jaime Kosiorek for its attacks.

Kosiorek finished with 19 kills on 54 attacks and seemingly was the only Bobcat who could provide a second option to Lamberti.

“We just couldn’t get everyone going tonight, and when not everyone is playing up to their potential that’s my fault,” Ohio coach Deane Webb said. “It’s my job to get everyone on our team to play on a high level, and we struggled with that tonight.”

Western Michigan (21-13) came in as one of the hottest MAC teams after winning its past four matches, including a four-set victory against No. 4 Ball State on Saturday. The Broncos challenged The Bobcats by finding offensive production from the MAC Freshman of the Year Sydney LeMay.

She recorded a team-high 17 kills, but her contributions on the defensive end hurt the Bobcats the most. LeMay led the middle blocking corps that frustrated Ohio’s attackers all night.

The Broncos have faced adversity throughout the season after losing five players in injury, including freshman libero Sierra Hubbard-Neil who has been out with a concussion for the past two weeks.

“The women in our program are relentless. They were determined tonight and they have been determined all weekend,” said Western Michigan coach Colleen Munson. “They believed in themselves and I think that’s the strongest motivator right now.”

The adversity Western Michigan has faced throughout the season made the 0-2 deficit to the undefeated MAC champions seem surmountable. Ohio came out of the locker room lacking energy, while the Broncos jumped out to an early advantage in the third set.

After trailing 4-0 in the fourth set, Ohio again turned Lamberti. Not normally one to show her emotions, Lamberti celebrated the Bobcats’ first point by stomping her feet with the hopes of getting her teammates reenergized.

The energy only resulted in short runs, and Ohio was never able to close out the Broncos.

“I give Western Michigan credit — this is their third match in three days and they played really hard,” Webb said. “I think you have to give them credit for that. It was a tough night for us. We didn’t play the way we normally do.”

With the loss, Ohio’s chances of becoming one of 64 teams selected for the NCAA Tournament is out of the team’s control. The Bobcats, which could have automatically qualified for the tournament with a MAC Championship win, will hope to receive one of 33 NCAA Tournament at-large bids. They have a Rating Percentage Index of 39, which is based upon a team’s wins and losses and its strength of schedule. 

Although its MAC Tournament run is over, Ohio will play its final regular season match against Dayton on Friday. The Atlantic-10 champions could provide Ohio one last opportunity to make an impression on the selection committee.

“We’re looking at Dayton as a must win,” Webb said. “I think, right now, most people would say that we’re a bubble team on the good half of the bubble if there is such a thing.”

 

@kovarandrew

AK840511@ohio.edu

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