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Mallory Salis (6) dives to save a ball agaist Kent State on October 6th, 2016. MATT STARKEY|FOR THE POST

Volleyball: After a sweep of Toledo in the MAC quarterfinal, Ohio falls to Northern Illinois in semifinal

The Bobcats weren't even supposed to be in DeKalb, Illinois, this late into the season — at least not to those who checked the Bobcats’ pre-season rankings and pre-conference record.

Yet, there they stood.

They made it; despite pushing through a season with an ever-changing depth chart and an uncomfortable amount of position changes, the Bobcats were three sets away from a trip to the Mid-American Conference title game.

But following a satisfying 3-0 sweep of Toledo in the MAC Tournament quarterfinal Friday night, Ohio’s dreams of making consecutive NCAA Tournaments came to a swift end when host Northern Illinois swept Ohio 3-0 in the semifinal Saturday.

After hitting an attack percentage of .286 against the Rockets, the Bobcats turned around and hit a dismal .092 against the Huskies. Redshirt junior Ali Lake had a team-high 12 kills, while junior Jaime Kosiorek and senior Mallory Salis added 10 more. The closest Ohio was to a set win was a 23-21 deficit in the opening set.

Ohio lost to — quite frankly — a better team.

Despite the way the game ends, no amount of preparation can eliminate the pain of seeing another team celebrate in your final match of your collegiate career.

And with the vast number of wins Ohio senior co-captains Salis and Brooke Coleman experienced as Bobcats, that hurt intensifies.

Salis and Coleman were a part of 91 Ohio wins, two conference championships, two conference tournament titles and two NCAA Championship appearances in the last four years. They weren’t accustomed to losing.

“Our big thing this past season was, ‘You enjoy a win until midnight, and then you’ve got to focus on the next opponent,’ ” senior Mallory Salis said.

Although Salis and Coleman won’t be able to enjoy any more wins in green and white uniforms, time and again their all-business mindset away from the court is something this young Bobcat team — with 10 underclassmen — adopted.

The Ohio underclassmen watched as Salis excelled in the weight room, earning the Ohio strength & conditioning's prestigious Ultimate Elite Athlete Award. Coleman became Ohio’s first-ever academic captain, designated by coach Deane Webb.

“When you think about Brooke and Mal, you instantly think hard work,” redshirt sophomore Katie Nelson said of the two on Ohio’s senior night. "They never complain about having to do extra reps or having to fall on the floor and dive for every ball. They do it no matter what, and I think they instilled that hard work in our team.”

Yes, the Bobcats didn’t bring all the fight out of their underdog status in the semifinal this weekend, but no, they should not feel like they underachieved.

If nothing else, they surpassed outside expectations. All behind two seniors whose impact on the team was felt just as much off the court than it was on.

@NKairys

nk596613@ohio.edu

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