Lizzie Stephens tossed the ball up to herself, and with a slight jump, sent it over the net for more than just another service ace.
This ace held the weight of not just winning the match, but obtaining the No. 5 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament and a winning conference record.
The senior’s impact in Ohio’s 3-1 (21-25, 29-27, 25-21, 25-21) win over Akron Saturday night in The Convo wasn’t what she wanted it to be, but it was what her and her teammates needed it to be.
“I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better ending to that game,” Stephens said. “And just knowing that it was the one thing that I could do, as that’s pretty much the only way I can jump. So, it meant a lot that I was able to contribute to the team again.”
Stephens hadn’t appeared in a match since Oct. 5, and in her first appearance since then, she still didn’t appear to be fully healthy. She just began jumping for the first time two days prior to the match, and the coaching staff elected to limit her time on the court to the back row.
If Ohio wanted to have anyone serving for it in this situation, it was Stephens. She has the sixth-most services aces in school history, and even after missing over a month, she still leads the MAC in service aces per set.
Serving is one of the aspects of Stephens’ game that has always been her strongest. In 2017, she set the school record with 60 service aces in a season. Stephens was on pace to reach, and possibly break, her own record this season before she injured her foot.
Despite missing 11 matches and not playing in her normal spot, she still had three service aces against the Zips – including on her very first serve.
“It speaks a great deal to Lizzie and just her focus and her ability, even though having not done it for a while, to go out and execute at a high level,” coach Deane Webb said. “Not a lot of kids could have done that. It’s really impressive.”
Stephens’ ace won the Bobcats their fourth match in a row. Ohio (17-12, 9-7 MAC) will play No. 8 seeded Kent State on Nov. 21 in the Stroh Center at Bowling Green.
“Now it’s 0-0,” Webb said. “Anybody has a chance to win. We need to win four games in four days. I think we’re good enough to do that. It’s just a matter of, can we stay focused and do what we need to do?”
What the Bobcats need to do is build on what went right during their home stand. Ohio won five sets by two points in its win streak. In the tournament, the ability to win those close sets will be crucial as it is win or go home. That means ending the careers of the Bobcats’ five seniors, including Stephens.