All Mallory Salis needed was some space.
From the back row, she suspended – seemingly timeless – in the air, and her slow motion form turned to a flash of a swing as a desperation set transformed into a devastating kill. And on Thursday night, she had plenty of them.
Salis’ career-tying 22 kills led Ohio to a 3-1 Mid-American Conference East Division win over Kent Sate at The Convo.
“We’ve been working on the back row attack,” Salis said. “You just have so much room to work with. I can go left, right. There are so many options back there.”
Salis — whose options as a hitter were limited while she recently transitioned from outside hitter to libero following some attacking struggles — found her touch against the Golden Flashes in her third game back labeled as an outside hitter.
Her play mirrored her performance last season against the Golden Flashes in the MAC Tournament when she used the Convo’s open court to lead the Bobcats with 17 kills, taking them to the Tournament final.
Salis’ poise from the backline began from her constant repetitions as a freshman back row defensive specialist (DS), when her only role was to swing from a backward set.
“I would clone everybody to be able to do that,” said Ohio coach Deane Webb on Salis’ ability to strike from the back row. “The key for Mal is that we can’t set her too far off. She needs room to be explosive.”
Salis and the Bobcats exploded with energy from the start, despite the absence of two starting freshmen in middle blocker Sara Januszewski and outside hitter Lizzie Stephens due to injury.
As a fill-in, 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman Natalie Burchesky had five blocks in her first collegiate start, even though she probably didn’t show up on Kent State’s scouting report.
“Whenever I get a block, I try to point to her on the bench, and so the fact she was out there and I was on the bench and the roles were reversed, it was tons of fun,” said redshirt sophomore Katie Nelson on Burchesky’s big night.
Ultimately, however, it was Salis’ night. Regardless of her less-than-towering height, her presence above the net was too much for the Golden Flashes to handle.
“She’s barely 5’8” and she touches over 10 feet,” Webb said. “What she has done to transform herself as an athlete is pretty special.”