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(From left) Setter Abby Gilleland, middle back Shelby Walker, outside hitter Chelsea Bilger, and setter Brooke Coleman celebrate a point in the final set against Eastern Michigan University in the Convo. The OU Bobcats defeated the EMU Eagles 3-1. 

Volleyball: Ohio looking to finish dominant season

Emphasis on first ball contact has allowed the Bobcats to have one of their most statistically dominant seasons yet.

Although Ohio has finished Mid-American Conference play undefeated three times in program history, its start this season might be its most dominant yet.

Leading the conference in almost every statistical category, the Bobcats have cruised through their MAC slate only dropping eight sets in 12 matches. This primarily has to do with the principles that coach Deane Webb has instilled to his team.

The concept was simple: work on first ball contact on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. The Bobcats spent the off season perfecting their serving and passing, which has resulted in them leading the MAC in aces (1.65 per set) and digs (16.73 per set).

Webb knew he had a talented offensive team coming into the year, so by bringing a fresh eye to the program he has been able to implement his own principles to improve the Bobcats on both sides of the ball.

When preseason camp started, there were no hitting or blocking drills. Instead, the team took a few steps back from the attacking line to fine tune their game.

“For the first little while that net is to look at and serve over and learn how to pass once the ball comes over the net to you,” Webb said before the year began.

Whether it is the principles Webb teaches on the court or the calming influence he brings to the squad, six weeks through MAC play, every team in the conference is looking up at them in the standings — something that has become routine for Ohio.

The Bobcats have won 10 MAC regular season titles in the last 11 years and look primed to do the same again this season. This squad is different, however, in that they can forever cement themselves in the program record books. If they win their next four games, they would cap off an undefeated conference run for the first time since 2006.

“I think there’s a lot of things as a team that we want to accomplish and leave a legacy,” junior setter Abby Gilleland said. “We want to do things that we haven’t done before and that’s a start. It is all about where we finish I know Deane has said that before. Just remembering that and applying that to how everything goes … hoping that translates throughout the season and can hopefully lead us to something we haven’t done since 2006.”

With Gilleland and senior outside hitter Kelly Lamberti filling stat sheets offensively, what Ohio has done defensively has allowed it to excel in conference play.

Last season, Ohio tied for second in the MAC in opponent hitting percentage at .171. It has improved by limiting their opponents to just a MAC-best .156 percentage, which is the 28th-best in the nation. The next closest conference team, Miami, sits at .184 on the season which is 90th in the NCAA.

First ball contact has gone from a point of emphasis this preseason to a strength for Ohio, which ranks 12th nationally in aces per set with 1.65 per set which just edges out Northern Illinois for the top spot in the conference.

Despite their dominance in MAC play thus far, the Bobcats take a humble approach each day they hit the court. Led by an experienced core that has been through the rigors of both conference play and postseason play, Ohio knows they need to bring their game each day in order to achieve the goals it set forth before the season.

“We don’t treat ourselves like a (12-0) team,” Gilleland said. “We treat ourselves like this is the first game of MAC conference and we have to go out and perform. …That comes from learning from last year and being on a high, having success, and not knowing how to handle it.

“Now we are all a year older and we all have a year of experience with it with that type of success.”



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