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Ohio University volleyball setter Abby Gilleland attempts to block the ball coming over the net during the match against Eastern Michigan University in the Convocation Center, at Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio, on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. The OU Bobcats defeated the EMU Eagles 3-1. 

Volleyball: Bobcats' tough non-conference matches headline year of high expectations

Deane Webb and his 2015-16 Bobcats focus on out-working opponents and taking one game at a time.

When searching for teams to compete against before Mid-American Conference play, Ohio volleyball administrators did not take scheduling lightly.

“Well, we have a very tough beginning to our schedule,” coach Deane Webb said of the first nine days of the season against highly-esteemed programs including Purdue, Kentucky, LSU, Xavier and Michigan.

“We’re either going to have a great RPI or the coaches are going to look pretty dumb for over scheduling. We’ll see.”

Although Webb and his players don’t want to dwell on the past, they can learn from last season and they understand being undefeated in MAC play is simply not enough.

Ohio was one non-conference win away from being an at-large team in the 2014 NCAA tournament and dropped two crucial 3-2 matches against both Arizona State and Northwestern early in 2014.

“This year when we’re in those opportunities against big teams, I think our team fully understands just how important those big games are and we have to make sure we take advantage of those,” Webb said.

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No matter its opponent, the overlying emphasis for the upcoming squad is to be the hardest working team on the court — something Webb knows his team can control.

“Right now it’s about effort,” junior outside hitter Mallory Salis said. “We’re working on integrating our newcomers into what we do here. You have to focus on one game before you can focus on the next, and I think that’s the most important thing for us.”

Senior outside hitter Shelby Walker related, saying: “I think (nonconference and conference games) are all equally important. Our main goal is just to improve and take what we did last year and work to get better every day.”

One of the major challenges for the Bobcats will be to replace veteran outside hitter Kelly Lamberti: someone who Webb felt was underappreciated for her all-around game. It will take a variety of young players to fill in the void left by Ohio’s senior leader.

The new freshman class consists of plenty of potential at the position, with Simone Miller, Stephanie Olman and Carley Remmers all added as possible new pieces of the rotation.

Each will have an opportunity to make a big contribution, as now-sophomore Jaime Kosiorek was a member of the 2014 MAC Volleyball All-Freshman Team this past season.

Webb said he was particularly excited to see the development of redshirt freshman Katie Nelson, who is 6-foot-4 and has the ability to be a “wall” as a middle blocker.

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The Bobcats open their season in Athens on Sept. 4 against SEC foe LSU — another crucial game when it comes to RPI ranking and showcasing talent in front of the home crowd. Ohio will also play Xavier and Michigan.

“That’s probably the greatest feeling as a Bobcat here,” Salis said of the home crowd. “They’re really who make us perform at our highest potential. We go out there and want to show them why we’re on their court and why we put on that jersey.”

With two-time MAC Player of the Year Abby Gilleland and Salis leading the way as captains this year, along with a slew of experienced players, Webb has high expectations for his team.

“We are not going to have any excuses like, ‘Oh we’re the new kids out there,’ ” said Webb. “We want to go out there and win.”

@NKairys

nk596613@ohio.edu

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