OXFORD — Deane Webb took a deep breath, bent over and placed his hands on his knees.
As his players huddled and screamed in the middle of the court, Webb couldn’t help but take his biggest sigh of relief of the season. Ohio had done something it struggled to do all year in its craziest set and biggest match of the year: finish.
The Bobcats used emotion built up from the first two sets Thursday to sweep Northern Illinois 3-0 (25-15, 25-14, 32-30) in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament at Millett Hall.
“You have to finish the sets,” Webb said. “Our kids found a way to get it done, so to me, it was just relief.”
In its first postseason match, Ohio looked like a different team from the rest of the season. It dominated the first two sets. Its offense had a .309 hitting percentage and peppered Northern Illinois’ front and back lines with strikes, while its defense looked impenetrable and held the Huskies’ All-MAC First Team outside hitters Jori Radtke and Meg Wolowicz to a meager five combined kills.
The Bobcats were feeling it. Their screams, which echoed among the small 162-person attendance, only grew louder after each kill and block. Even Webb, who usually shields his emotions on the sideline, gave emphatic high-fives and briefly raised his voice to match his players and inject emotion into his team.
Everything seemed perfect.
The third set, however, was anything but normal.
The Bobcats had a 22-18 lead and needed only three more points to complete one of their best performances of the season. Then, the Huskies went on a 7-3 run.
The set was tied, and Ohio still had a 2-0 lead, but the Bobcats were feeling the pressure. They blew a two-set lead to the exact same opponent on Oct. 20. Could it really happen again?
The extra-point chaos began. One team battered the other with a kill, then some screams. Then, the other team fought back and did the same. As Webb sagged his shoulders, Ray Gooden, Northern Illinois’ vibrant coach, jumped up and down.
The process repeated itself nearly 11 times, but Ohio finished with the last yell. Stephanie Olman pounded a ball across the net for the 32nd and final point past Northern Illinois’ fatigued defenders.
The Bobcats won the third set 32-30, the same score the Huskies defeated the Bobcats with in the fourth and grueling set in their first match on Oct. 20. Now, it was the last set score of the Huskies’ season.
“It was chaotic,” Jaime Kosiorek said. “I remember looking (at the scoreboard) like, ‘Oh my God, 30 points?’ Here we go again. And when we hit 30, I was like ‘Ah, this is ours. They did this to us last time, and they don’t get to do it again.’”
Sure, the Bobcats would have had two other sets to claim the win if they didn’t win the third set, but they needed that sweep.
They needed it so badly that Jaime Kosiorek couldn’t let go of Olman, even planting a kiss on her cheek, after the last point. It was the final raw display of emotion the Bobcats showed on the court, but it won’t be their last.
Ohio will play No. 3 Ball State on the same court Friday at 7 p.m., and there’s no doubt that the Bobcats will bring the same energy.
“It’s a different kind of energy. You can’t force it,” Kosiorek said. “This is something you can’t create, and so having that feeling of being in postseason is something that blows up when you get here, and it really comes out.”