The Convo was silent.
Ohio’s subs had their hands on their knees or sagged their shoulders as they watched the six starters attempt to salvage the match. The Bobcats were in the fifth set and needed all the energy possible to pull ahead, just one more time, ahead of Northern Illinois.
But the energy just wasn’t there. Almost everyone in The Convo could sense what was coming — another loss where the Bobcats would be telling themselves, “we should’ve had that one.”
Ohio had several chances to put away Saturday’s match against Northern Illinois, but it couldn’t. Instead, the Bobcats lost, 3-2 (25-23, 25-17, 17-25, 32,-30, 25-7), to the Huskies and added another painful tally to their Mid-American Conference loss column.
“We had our chances at the end of set four, and didn’t take care of it,” coach Deane Webb said.
Ohio wanted no part of a fifth set against Northern Illinois — the Bobcats were 1-4 in five-set matches before Saturday, and if the Huskies forced a fifth set, all the momentum would be on their side.
So, the Bobcats fought. They clawed back from a late 17-13 deficit in the fourth set, evened the score at 23-23 and set themselves up with a chance to win the match and leave the weekend with a 2-0 record. It would’ve been the perfect bounce-back weekend the•Bobcats needed after starting October 0-4 and sinking deeper into the MAC standings.
But Ohio’s small comeback was only the halfway point of their longest set of the season. The two sides bludgeoned each other for another 16 points to extend the set deep into extra points, and that’s when the chaos started.
Players from both sides were screaming at each other mid-play about where to position themselves and who should go for the ball. Coaches on both sides could be heard above The Convo’s crowd giving demands to their players.
Ohio had the lead three times in the extra-point portion of the match, but it never mattered. Northern Illinois came out on top, and that’s when the doubts started.
Ohio was mentally crushed, and the pressure of blowing another five-set match crept in. The Bobcats succumbed to the stress, and the Huskies, who played their third consecutive •five-set match, took advantage and went on a 12-3 scoring run to finish out the set and steal the match.
“I thought we had a couple opportunities in that fourth set that we could’ve jumped on that we didn’t,” Jaime Kosiorek said. “That kind of carried some of our thought into the fifth set, which shouldn’t happen.”
The Bobcats have six matches to play in 2018, and four of their last six opponents have conference records above .500. Ohio is 0-5 against teams with a MAC record above .500.
After another tough loss on Saturday, the future isn’t looking too bright — if the trend above .500 MAC opponents continues, Ohio will finish with a 6-10 conference record and could miss out on a MAC Tournament appearance for the first time since 2001.
But Webb and Kosiorek both said that the long-term future of Ohio’s 2018 season isn’t on their minds. Even after another crushing loss to a team they should’ve beaten, the Bobcats are taking a match-by-match approach and trying to distance themselves from thinking about what could lie ahead.
“I’m thinking about Tuesday,” Webb said. “It’s going to be a good practice. That’s the future we’re thinking about.”