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Ohio's Katie Nelson celebrates with her teammates during the match against Virginia Tech on Sept. 7. (FILE)

Volleyball: Ohio's deep roster already paying dividends for Deane Webb

Coach Deane Webb was blunt when he talked about how last year's rash of injuries affected Ohio's current 2018 roster.

"That had a massive effect," the fifth-year coach emphatically said after a practice in which he attempted to manage 16 players with one net set up at The Convo.

The Bobcats had 15 total players last season, but never had more than 13 of them healthy at once. At one point, that number was down to nine. 

Webb hated it. He didn't want to keep mixing and matching healthy players to positions they weren't accustomed to playing.

This year, Ohio has 18 total players. Two of them, Carley Remmers and Tia Jimerson, are out with injuries, but there were still plenty of healthy, capable bodies receiving reps at practice Tuesday — and a lot of players to coach at once for Webb and his coaching staff.

But he loves it.

"We're just not going to be in a situation where we have nine healthy bodies again," he said. "If that means we carry a few extra, and then you have to deal with some of the challenges of having so many bodies and trying to get them playing time and all that, that's a welcome problem to have as opposed to people playing out of position and the challenges we faced last year."

What other challenges is Webb talking about? Well, he likes to give playing time to every player available throughout a season. He's already given at least one set's worth of playing time to every player on the roster except for Remmers and freshman Virginia Natale.

Webb doesn't like to keep players on the bench for an entirety of a season. He places a high emphasis on making sure every player has a chance to improve their game, and that comes with rewarding any non-starters with playing time if he sees them working hard in practice.

With a talented freshmen class in 2018 — Webb believes several of his five freshmen are capable of starting — his plan has hardly prohibited Ohio from winning games.

Take Kyra Slavik, for example. The freshman from Saint Charles, Illinois, has taken a back seat to sophomore Vera Giacomazzi, the 2017 Mid-American Conference Setter of the Year.

Slavik was honest in her reaction after realizing the depth of Ohio's team this season: She was nervous. Was she going to receive any playing time behind the best setter in the conference?

So far, Slavik has not only gotten plenty of playing time, but she's delivered in Giazomazzi's relief. 

She leads all freshmen with appearances in 26 sets and has just a single error in 102 assists. The latter stat is second on the team to Giacomazzi, who has 250 assists and one error in 37 sets.

"At the beginning, I'm not going to lie, I think it was a little rough because I didn't know really where I was supposed to be, and it was all kind of mental for me," Slavik said. "I'm really hard on myself, so that played a huge part in it, but I think now that I'm starting to get into more games and bigger opponents, it's helped a lot."

But what about the main reason Webb decided to expand his roster in 2018? The Bobcats are without Jimerson, arguably their most important player from 2017. The middle blocker has been absent since a lower-body injured sustained after Ohio's game against Wake Forest on Sept. 1.

Ohio, however, wasn't worried. Not Sara Januszewski, a middle blocker who knew she had an opportunity to help the team in a deep part of the roster — the Bobcats have four middle blockers on its 2018 roster.

"We have literally so much depth at literally every single position, so anyone can play at any time, and we have the ability to win at any time with all of our depth," Januszewski said.

The trio of Januszewski, redshirt junior Simone Miller and freshman Dahlias Bouyer have all received additional playing time as a result of Jimerson's absence, and all three hit a career milestone the three games since Jimerson's injury.

Januszewski hit a career-high nine kills against Marshall on Sept 5., Miller hit a career-high 14 kills against Samford last Friday and Bouyer made a team-high seven blocks in her debut against IUPUI on Saturday. 

That's the definition of depth.


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