The Bobcats welcome the return of Bilger to the lineup as they defeat Eastern Michigan for their 13th straight win.
It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
That has been the motto Ohio coach Deane Webb instilled at the beginning of the Bobcats’ 2014 campaign, and with four games remaining in the regular season, they are looking to finish their Mid-American Conference slate with an unblemished record.
After defeating Eastern Michigan in four sets Saturday, Ohio has won 13 straight games dating back to Sept. 19, when the team swept University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. A month and a half later, the Bobcats have beaten every team in the MAC and look primed to finish the conference slate undefeated for the fourth time in program history.
The Bobcats (19-4, 12-0 MAC) have been receiving contributions from more than just their starters — a luxury for Webb, who is able to rotate players to create the best matchups.
Saturday, he turned to the bench in favor of starting junior outside hitter Chelsea Bilger.
“Every week we’ll look at who we’re playing and we’ll put the best team on the court against that team,” Webb said after the match. “Tonight we had a couple of different lineups out there. We’re very fortunate that we’re deep and we have a number of players that can come in and contribute.”
It was Bilger’s first start since tearing her ACL and both menisci in her left leg 14 months ago against then-No. 24 North Carolina. Saturday was the first time she played an entire match. She tallied 12 kills.
“I would say I’m about 100 percent as I’m going to get,” Bilger said. “I’ll never be the same as I was, but I’m feeling pretty good right now.”
Bilger replaced junior middle blocker Shelby Walker, and the Bobcats leaned on Bilger, a 2012 All-MAC selection, in the fourth set. She recorded five kills in that set, including the final point that gave Ohio the 25-20 win to clinch the victory against the Eagles (15-11, 6-6 MAC).
Despite the win, Ohio’s new lineup still has a few kinks to work out before season’s end, as players were out of rhythm both in their attack and defense. This was most evident in the second set, which the Bobcats lost 25-19.
“I think to start the match tonight we were just really flat emotionally, and we normally weren’t communicating to the level that we do,” Webb said afterward. “We just looked emotionally tired and that’s not too unusual for this time of year, and tonight that was our battle. We had a battle with EMU, and we had a battle with our own emotions.”
Less than a month removed from NCAA Tournament selection day, the Bobcats are hoping to play their best volleyball entering postseason play. They are building an impressive resume for the selection committee, as their only four losses have come to teams in the top 55 in Rating Percentage Index — three of which are in the top 30. RPI ranks teams based on wins and losses and strength of schedule.
In order to reach the NCAA Tournament, the Bobcats will have to finish what they started in the MAC. Of the remaining teams left on Ohio’s schedule, Miami is the only team to take the Bobcats to five sets. The Bobcats’ matchup with the RedHawks is the last of the regular season in two weeks.
“We just try to take it game by game and not really think about the overall picture,” junior middle blocker Karin Bull said. “We just try to focus on each point and slow down the game.”