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Ohio middle hitter Sara Januszewski blocks during the Bobcats’ game against Buffalo on Friday.

Volleyball: Ohio benefits from an energized Lizzie Stephens in sweep of Akron

Lizzie Stephens and coach Deane Webb locked eyes and laughed.

Webb was about to reflect on Stephens’ solid season in the postgame media scrum Saturday, but he wanted to make sure Stephens heard what he was about to say.

“Hmmm,” Webb said sarcastically. “What to say about Lizzie Stephens?” 

The sophomore ran and jumped behind her coach with a big smile before inching her way into the scrum to hear Webb’s thoughts.

Stephens’ coach had plenty to say about her after she registered a team-leading 10 kills and three service aces in Ohio’s 3-0 (25-21, 25-14, 25-22) sweep over Akron at The Convo.

“She played well overall tonight,” Webb said. “(She’s) an outstanding server. She served well last night… and she had a great deal of success last night, and so everything in that transferred to today.”

Stephens’ 10 kills gave her a combined 25 kills this weekend — the most she registered in a two-game stretch all season. The Dallas, Texas, native has benefitted from a lighter workload in 2018 because Ohio’s other two heavy swingers, Jaime Kosiorek and Katie Nelson, have been healthy all season.

In 2017, when Kosiorek played in just four matches and Nelson in just eight, Stephens was handling the brunt of the Bobcats’ offensive attack. She garnered a massive, team-leading 1,437 total attacks, the third-highest in program history, and it fatigued Stephens’ body down in the crucial final leg of the season.

But as Ohio (8-9, 3-1 Mid-American Conference) crosses into the final half of the 2018 season with a mostly healthy roster, Stephens’ feels refreshed. Even after the Bobcats grinded through a grueling five-set loss to Buffalo just 22 hours before Saturday’s match, Stephens said she felt great.

It showed in her performance against Akron (8-7, 0-4 MAC).

“My body feels a lot better,” she said. “On a Friday night when you play a five-set match going into the Saturday game, your body feels it a lot less. I’m taking less swings, which is nice because we have three other options who can put a ball away, and we don’t have to throw everything to the outside.”

A more energized Stephens also meant that the Bobcats could lower one of their bigger issues of 2018 – unforced errors. Webb’s constantly discussed unforced errors as a point of emphasis in Ohio’s game this season. On Saturday, the Bobcats had their lowest unforced error rate, just two percent, of 2018.

A big reason why Ohio accomplished that? An unfatigued Stephens.

“When plays keep going back and forth, I’m not taking every ball,” she said. “So, I’m able to get a better approach to it put a better swing on the ball.”

Notes

- Kyra Slavik (hand injury) and Tia Jimerson (lower-leg injury) were both out against Akron. 

- Freshman Virginia Natale made her career debut on Saturday. She briefly entered and made a successful serve before exiting for the rest of the match, but her appearance means that every active Ohio player has appeared in at least one set in 2018.

- Jaime Kosiorek notched one service ace against Akron, bringing her to within nine aces of breaking Ohio's all-time career service ace record.

@anthonyp_2

ap012215@ohio.edu

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