Sara Januszewski's teammates' faces showed fear about halfway through the second set Thursday night. While they frowned and stared at each other in the quick huddles between points, Januszewski confidently bobbed her head up and down.
She knew she could become a factor in the game.
Kent State was shading toward the direction of Jaime Kosiorek, Lizzie Stephens and Katie Nelson, Ohio's top swingers. The Golden Flashes didn't think Januszewski, technically a backup on the depth-heavy Bobcats, could change the game.
The Golden Flashes were wrong.
The middle blocker's 11 kills and team-leading .588 hitting percentage helped the Bobcats (6-8, 1-0 MAC) avoid an upset from the Golden Flashes (7-8, 0-1 MAC) in their first 2018 conference match, a 3-1 (21-25, 25-16, 25-19, 25-20) win, Thursday at The Convo.
The Oak Creek, Wisconsin, native took advantage of a Kent State game plan meant to belittle her talents and focus more on Ohio's primary attackers.
"A lot of Kent (State's) plan, it seemed like, was to kind of go away from me," she said. Januszewski looked up and smiled as if to tell the Golden Flashes, "nice try."
Her season-high 11 kills helped fill the missing gap looming over Ohio from Tia Jimerson's absence. Jimerson had a team-leading 60 kills before an injury suffered after the Bobcats' Sept. 1 match. Since the injury, coach Deane Webb has given Januszewski an opportunity to step up.
On Thursday, Januszewski did more than just step up — she helped carry the Bobcats.
Just when it looked like Ohio was losing its grip on Kent State, Januszewski was there to strengthen her team.
When Kent State went on a 9-5 scoring run in the third set to tie the score, Januszewski notched a crucial kill that flipped the momentum and sent Ohio on an 8-2 run to win the set and take a 2-1 match lead. She also swung the winning kill in a crucial second set win and registered two kills in the final set on Thursday.
Had Jimerson been in the lineup, Kent State would have likely balanced its defensive looks. What the Golden Flashes may not have realized, however, was that Ohio has depth — plenty of it.
"We have a dominant player in Tia out," Webb said. "People are going to expect that the other people that come in aren't going to be able to score. But we've seen throughout this year, as different people have been out for whatever reason, people have stepped up. Today, it was Sara."
Januszewski's playing time could be limited to when Jimerson heals from her injury.
Webb said Jimerson is being evaluated on a week-to-week basis, but Januszewski isn't thinking about that all.
"I'm just looking at each day as it comes, and I'm excited to be playing now," Januszewski said.
News and notes
- Carley Remmers was on Ohio’s bench Thursday. It was her first time back in The Convo for a match since announcing her retirement from volleyball earlier in September and undergoing her second back surgery. The former outside hitter was also managing the Bobcats' Twitter account during the game.
- The Golden Flashes — picked to finish fifth out of six teams in MAC East Division in the preseason coaches' poll — weren't supposed to be competing with the Bobcats, picked to win the MAC title. But Kent State won the first set before Ohio went on to win the final three.
- Jamie Kosiorek had two service aces Thursday, bringing her to within 11 aces of Ohio's all-time career ace record of 162.
- The Bobcats will Central Michigan on the road in their next match Saturday at 7 p.m. in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.