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Jaime Kosiorek goes up to spike the ball against Samford University in the first game of the Bobcat Invitational on Sept. 7. (FILE)

Volleyball: A look at how Ohio fared in its gauntlet of a nonconference schedule

Coach Deane Webb needed to ask his team captains a question.

“Are we OK? Is the team OK?”  the fifth-year coach asked Jaime Kosiorek, Katie Nelson and Lizzie Stephens.

Ohio was in the midst of its brutal 2018 nonconference schedule, which included six opponents from Power Five conferences, a match against the reigning NCAA champion and just one weekend in which the team was actually playing at home.

Oh, and one of the team’s four total flights taken to the two fly-over states it played in experienced a seven-hour delay. Sounds like fun, right.

Well, here's what, according to Webb, the captains collectively said in response to his question: "We'd rather have this and lose than collect wins. We get it."

The Bobcats just went through what some teams may consider hell. After nearly a month of playing out what was an expectedly tough nonconference schedule, the Bobcats are 5-8. They actually made it out “OK,” just like how Webb asked.

Ohio will open up its Mid-American Conference schedule Thursday against Kent State in The Convo. It’ll be the first of the Bobcats’ final 16 regular-season games, all against opponents they should be much more familiar with than its previous 13.

The next couple of months should be easier for Ohio. That’s what Webb and the team had in mind when they built and released the schedule in August. They wanted to play tougher teams to give themselves a challenge, take a beating and callous themselves up for the part of the season that matters most: conference play.

The toughest opponents the Bobcats played were Nebraska (the reigning NCAA champs), Texas A&M, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Missouri. They went 1-5 against those teams and won just six of 15 total sets played. Three of those set wins came in a sweep against Wake Forest, who was winless when it played Ohio.

Some teams may view a tough season-opening, non-conference schedule as a confidence killer. Losing games at a rate much higher than a team prefers won’t do much to instill confidence in a group of 20 players.

But Ohio is different. This is actually where the Bobcats expected to be.

“We're a good, confident team because we know that we played with big, physical teams,” Kosiorek, a redshirt senior, said. “I definitely think it was as tough as we thought. I would so much rather play teams like that at the highest level than teams that maybe aren't as challenging.”

In their final nonconference tournament of the season, the Bobcats finally saw improvement in things they specifically looked to improve on. For example, after a Sept. 5 defeat to Marshall, Ohio had just under a paltry 1-to-2 ace-to-error ratio. Since then, the ratio has only gone up, and it now stands at just under a fantastic 1-to-0 ratio. 

“(It’s) an incredible number,” Webb said. “We're always going to be an aggressive serving team usually early in the season, and there's a lot of errors that come with that. For us, it's been getting better each week.”

Webb has also implemented a heavy focus on unforced errors and making sure his team avoids them. An example of an unforced error is when a player goes up to attack the ball looking for a kill but hits it out of bounds. The opponent technically didn’t even have to move, yet it received a point. 

Webb, like all volleyball coaches, hates unforced errors. In practices over the last two weeks, he’s put a heavy emphasis on working to cut them down.

And it’s starting to pay off. Ohio had 11 attacking errors in its last nonconference match of the year, a sweep Saturday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The total marked its second-lowest mark of the season. It was just the Bobcats’ second sweep of the season and accomplished a small goal that Ohio looked to avoid during its nonconference play — avoid going 0-3 on any given weekend. The Bobcats were 0-2 last weekend before they played the Islanders.

It may not seem like it based on their record, but the Bobcats have plenty of reasons to believe that they’ll soar atop the MAC for the next two months. 

As it stands now, however, Ohio is last in the MAC East Division. No MAC team has played a conference game yet, but since the Bobcats are a division-worst 5-8, they’re sitting in last.

But they don’t really care. Most of them probably don’t even know that they’re last.

“Oh, is it?” Kosiorek asked. She chuckled upon learning on Tuesday that, yes, her team is technically in last place. 

“Our record is 5-8, but I'd rather have a 5-8 record and learn from those physical teams. Once MAC play starts, it's 0-0,“ she said.

@anthonyp_2

ap012215@ohio.edu

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