When it comes to volleyball statistics, there’s one stat that coach Deane Webb dislikes a lot more than others: attacking errors. They give the opponent free points, and that stat has plagued Ohio in matches against top-tier teams in the Mid-American Conference this season.
But the Bobcats bucked that trend in Saturday’s 3-0 (25-14, 27-25, 25-13) sweep over Eastern Michigan at The Convo. They hit just 16 attacking errors, the Bobcats’ lowest total against a team with a MAC record over .500 this season.
It’s far from its lowest attacking error total of the season (six against Akron on Sept. 29), but it was a crucial component in Ohio’s first win against a MAC team with at least a .500 record in 2018. It’s also a refreshing late-season sign for a Bobcats team that went 2-5 in October.
“You know, things are starting to go the right way,” Webb said. “I’m proud of what our team’s doing and of the work they’re putting in to keep improving.”
Before Saturday, the Bobcats averaged just under six attacking errors per set against MAC teams with at least a .500 conference record. Ohio struggled to accurately land attacks in matches that mattered the most, which is why the Bobcats have sunk in the conference standings and face late-season pressure to secure wins and clinch a spot in the MAC Tournament.
But Ohio’s offense looked in-sync for most of Saturday’s match. The Bobcats’ core group of attackers — Jaime Kosiorek, Tia Jimerson, Lizzie Stephens and Stephanie Olman — combined for a solid .243 hitting percentage and battered Eastern Michigan’s defense, which is regarded as one of the best in the MAC.
The Bobcats had just 10 unforced attacking errors, all of which occurred in the second set, which Ohio still won. The second set showed the two different looks Ohio has played like this season — one that gets overly-aggressive and hits too many balls out of bounds, and one that finds a rhythm and takes control of a match.
The Bobcats (11-14, 6-6 MAC) faced a small but late 22-19 deficit in the second set. Ohio couldn’t pull ahead of Eastern Michigan (14-12, 6-6 MAC) because it looked like the former option. Ohio’s attack became too aggressive and started to push balls out of bounds.
So, Webb called a timeout and reminded his team to be “patiently aggressive.” He wanted his hitters to relax and focus on making easier swings.
“When the moment’s there, don’t miss the moment,” Webb said. “Don’t spin a ball when you can hit a ball; but at the same time, know the moments. If (we’re) out of rhythm or out of system, then that’s the time where you got to put a ball in.”
After the timeout, Ohio went on an 8-4 scoring run, stringed together quality swings and rallied to win the set.
“It’s knowing if you’re in rhythm and if you have the opportunity to get the ball and hit it,” Stephens said. “But if not, just keep the ball in play and play patient volleyball.”
In almost every Ohio practice, team assistants track error totals and attacking attempts on the scoreboard. The ratios were high to start the season, but they’ve lessened in recent practices.
It’s starting to translate on the court.
Ohio hit 26 attacking errors in its two matches this weekend, the lowest two-match total it’s had since beginning its MAC schedule.
If the Bobcats’ offense can maintain the accuracy from Saturday for the rest of the season, Ohio could piece together wins against Buffalo, Miami or Bowling Green to close out the season.
When the Bobcats previously played those teams, their attacking errors increased. But the rematches could be a second chance for Ohio to prove that the potential it had at the beginning of the season is still there.