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Ohio senior setter Abby Gilleland (#3) and senior middle blocker Karin Bull (#4) go up to block a Kent State shot during their MAC Tournament semi-final game on Saturday in the Convocation Center. 

Volleyball: Ohio returns to NCAA Tournament to face powerhouse BYU

Ohio will face No. 13 BYU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday. 

The Bobcats were expected to travel by bus on Thursday, but instead, they will take a seven-hour journey by plane to Provo, Utah.

As Ohio coach Deane Webb repeatedly said this week, the journey will be different for the team’s seniors — who are making their second tournament appearance — and for him, as he will be making his fourth career appearance.

Ohio (25-7, 13-3 Mid-American Conference) will travel across the country to take on No. 13 seeded BYU (26-3), the West Coast Conference champions.

The Cougars have become mainstays in the NCAA Tournament as of late, advancing to the regional semifinals the past three years. Last year, BYU advanced to the National Championship, eventually falling to Penn State.

BYU features Alexa Gray, one of the most dynamic players in the country, according to Webb. The senior was an American Volleyball Coaches Association Second-Team All-American last year and has recorded over 1,700 kills in her career at BYU.

Though Gray and the Cougars have made NCAA Tournament appearances the past three years, the Bobcats are not without experience as well.

Ohio made the tournament in 2013, when current seniors Karin Bull, Meredith Ashy and Abby Gilleland were sophomores and current juniors Mallory Salis, Ali Lake and Brooke Coleman were freshmen.

Gilleland, a setter and instrumental piece in the Bobcats' run, said Ohio will have to leverage that experience in order to find success this year.

“I think it’s just instilling what we learned in our first time around,” Gilleland said. “Understanding that we’re in the tournament, but that’s not all we want. (It’s about) really fighting to get better this week and keep extending the season as long as we can.”

Though a handful of players are making their second trips to the NCAA Tournament, Webb is adamant that each trip is different.

“Whether you’ve been there once, twice or five times, it’s still different every time,” Webb said. “Our seniors had been there before and won in the tournament once before. I’m sure they had some words for some of the younger players who hadn’t been there before, and that’s helpful.”

Just like his players, Webb is also no stranger to the tournament.

On Friday, Webb will coach in his fourth tournament game. In his 11 years at Belmont University, he advanced to three NCAA Tournaments but his team only won one set.

With Ohio, he said it’s a new experience. His personnel is different and his team’s style of play is completely different from Belmont.

Webb said despite the pressure of this week, the most important thing he can do is make sure his team is in a good spot emotionally. And if Ashy’s emotions are any indication of how the team is feeling as a whole, they should be okay.

“I think we can pull this out,” Ashy said. “I’m excited. (BYU is) 13th seed, even though they could’ve been a two seed. We’re in a good spot.”


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