All good things must come to an end.
Ohio walked out of the Mid-American Conference tournament with a season-ending 3-1 semifinal loss to Western Michigan on Friday. With the loss, the Bobcats finished the season with a 12-8 winning record. Ohio’s third place finish in the MAC was truly a team effort as the Bobcats battled through several changes to the season due to COVID-19.
COVID-19 was a challenge right off the bat for the Bobcats. On Oct. 12, the MAC elected to postpone fall sports to the winter/spring season. The athletes now had more time to prepare for the season, but with this came new precautions and protocols. Players wore masks during each match and were regularly tested in attempts to keep the season alive.
Ohio faced the music early on in this COVID-19 season. It had six canceled matches, with the first cancelation coming Jan. 28 against Eastern Michigan. The Bobcats lost six matches to cancelations over the course of the season. This hurt the Bobcats when it came down to standings because Ohio had no more room for errors in the second half of the season, but its early successes boosted it to the top.
The Bobcats won 12 matches this season, but four of those matches came as full-series sweeps. In only its third series of the season, Ohio won six straight sets against Buffalo, sweeping the Bulls 3-0 in back-to-back games. In this series, Ohio had a smaller number of kills than normal with 83, but that did not matter. The Bobcats were still able to capitalize on Buffalo’s 35 errors.
Ohio did not earn a series sweep throughout the entirety of March but finished the season strong with a match sweep in its last regular season series at Northern Illinois to secure a spot in the MAC tournament. These matches were quick, as the Bobcats were dominant in all six sets against the Huskies. In the series, Ohio had 101 kills compared to Northern Illinois’ 73. Because of the large number of kills, assists in this series were high as well. Setter Vera Giacomazzi finished the series with 81 assists.
Arguably, the Bobcats’ most impressive match of the season came against Kent State on March 16. Ohio went down 0-2 after a fast-paced first two sets but came back and rallied, winning the match 3-2 on the road. It was an outstanding performance, and Ohio looked like a completely different team during set two. All parts of Ohio’s gameplay were elevated during the final three sets of the comeback win. Mariana Rodrigues acted as a dual threat at Kent State, totaling 12 kills and 13 digs for Ohio. Sam Steele finished with a match high of 34 digs.
Coach Deane Webb has the largest roster in the MAC, and it gave several players their own moment to shine. Early on, Webb used this flexibility to his advantage by moving players around to new positions to fill any voids due to injury. Stars were born out of struggle, and it showed in their performances.
The lights went out in The Convo to introduce the starters in the Bobcats’ first match Jan. 22, and then they went out for good during the second set. The match was moved, and the Bobcats played a doubleheader Jan. 23, where freshman setter Tria McLean made a season-opening statement in game two after making her Ohio debut in game one. Her introductory statement of 49 assists and nine digs were both season highs. McLean would go on to play six matches for the Bobcats, showing the strength of the freshman class.
Freshman Elizabeth Hoerlein did not step onto the court until Feb. 18 during the match at Bowling Green. However, it wasn’t until March 19 against Western Michigan that Hoerlein got to make an impact for Ohio. Hoerlein looked a bit out of touch with the offense at first but got adjusted quickly. She had no attack errors and three kills on five attempts against the Broncos. In just her third match, Hoerlein started for Ohio.
The third freshman standout for the Bobcats was Sam Steele, who took over the helm as libero for the Bobcats this season. She made a name for herself early in the season with her defensive prowess. Steele was constantly diving to the floor and running toward the stands to keep volleys alive. Her talent reflects in her season statistics positively as she collected 436 digs in 79 sets, earning herself a spot on the MAC All-Freshman team along with Caitlin O’Farrell.
Senior Tia Jimerson also made waves for the Bobcats throughout the season. She led the team in kills with 215 successful swings. Her .354 hitting percentage was the best of the Bobcats and landed her second-highest in the MAC, earning her First-Team All MAC honors. Jimerson was a vocal leader and consistently pushed the Bobcats despite not always being on the court after a mid-season injury sidelined her for a handful of matches.
In her final season at Ohio, setter Giacomazzi earned 776 assists, the second most in her four-year career with the Bobcats and the third most in the MAC this season. In addition, she totaled 196 digs, which is also the second most of her collegiate career. With these stats, Giacomazzi was named to the All-MAC second team. In a normal length season, Giacomazzi may have been able to pass her record 1353 assists in 2019.
Looking ahead to next season, Ohio is currently returning all but Giacomazzi. The upcoming fall season will be a quick turnaround for the Bobcats, who will be starting the season just a few short months after the conclusion of the 2021 season. There will also be adjusting to do for Ohio, who will have to go back to a completely different style of schedule. Despite the readjustment, the Bobcats are looking to have a promising season come fall. They can use the team chemistry they built this year to help them play even better.