After three consecutive seasons of losing records in nonconference play, Ohio (8-5) has finally broken that streak.
The Bobcats finished their nonconference schedule by winning seven of their last eight matches, including a seven-match win streak that gave them the second-best record in Mid-American Conference East division heading into MAC play. This was a welcome turnaround after Ohio started its season 1-4.
The Bobcats began that turnaround and their longest win streak since 2015 at the American Volleyball Classic, where they beat American in five sets. Ohio dominated in the next six matches, sweeping four of them and only losing four sets before losing its last nonconference match to North Texas.
“I think we feel like we’ve gotten out of nonconference what we needed to this year,” Coach Deane Webb said. “We played the right level of schedule, we got more challenging with each week and played a lot of teams that were playing really good volleyball.”
Ohio was also playing good volleyball.
In the win streak Ohio, averaged a .229 hitting percentage while its opponents averaged just .177.
The Bobcats’ offensive success has been widely led by new faces in the front row. Graduate transfer Shalya Phillip, junior transfer Maggie Nedoma and freshman Olivia Margolies are all in the top four on the team in kills.
Nedoma, who transferred from Southern Illinois, leads Ohio with 149 kills and .229 hitting percentage. She’s looked virtually unstoppable this season.
Defensively, Tia Jimerson has become an anchor for the Bobcats since coming back from injury. Jimerson has 25 blocks in just 17 sets, 10 of which came in one match against Kansas State.
“Tia played at a really impressive level that night against Kansas State,” Webb said. “19 kills and 10 blocks, not too many people do that ever in their careers.”
The season Ohio has put together so far behind players like Jimerson and Nedoma has drawn comparisons to some of its best teams in recent history in 2014 and 2015.
In 2014, Ohio started the season 7-4 in nonconference play before going a perfect 16-0 in MAC play. Karin Bull owned the middle similarly to Jimerson and Kelly Lamberti converted her attacks at a similar rate as Nedoma. The Bobcats even managed to crack the rankings and were ranked No. 24 in the country.
The 2015 season had an even better start. After going 10-3 in nonconference play, Ohio dominated the MAC with a 13-3 conference record.
“I think there are some similarities with this team and those teams,“ Webb said. “Because I’m a stats nerd, at the end of nonconference we as a staff sat down and looked at all of our nonconference stats and what it’s been for the last five years and compared that to this year. A lot of our numbers this year look similar to some of those years.”
Ohio will be wanting to match a lot of the numbers from those great teams, but wins is the most important. So far, the Bobcats have managed to do so by staying composed in losing situations.
Ohio was losing by six points in the first and third sets against Kansas State and came back to win both sets.
“Although it feels good to dominate teams, and no one is ever close, but it’s good to process these emotions,” Webb said. “You know at some point you’re going to have to whether that’s postseason or whenever that might be, so it’s good to see our team handle those emotions and perform at a high level.”
The Bobcats will need to perform at a high level this weekend as MAC play starts as Miami and Bowling Green will be coming to the Convo for a positioning battle in the MAC East Division.