Daniel Chi / Asst. photo editor
Just like that, the Ohio State women’s volleyball team’s season is over.
After sweeping Notre Dame, 3-0, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday in Lexington, Ky., the No. 14 Buckeyes were dropped at the hands of a No. 14 Kentucky team playing in their own backyard.
In the second round of the tournament, the Wildcats (22-10) outlasted OSU, 3-1, Saturday night at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington..
The Buckeyes, who finished the year with a 23-11 mark, killed and aced their way to a 25-18 victory in the contest’s first set, though they didn’t seem able to carry such momentum.
In what might have felt like a back-and-forth period, Kentucky pulled off a 26-24 victory in the second match that propelled them past the Buckeyes.
“We were under in the second game, but we came back and we got the lead,” said senior outside hitter Mari Hole. “It was just those few plays, they really got some good plays going. We weren’t able to respond right away, and they kind of just took the air out of the balloon at the moment. We kept talking like we really wanted it and we kept working through it, but we weren’t able to respond at the same level as Kentucky did and just kept pushing us.”
The second set might have been crucial in terms of controlling pace and tempo. Senior outside hitter Emily Danks said it was a tough loss.
“It was rough because we had been rolling through that set, and I think we were feeling pretty good and it was just that moment of let up that they took control of the game – they grabbed it and ran with it,” Danks said.
During halftime, the Buckeyes tried to regroup after losing set two, but Danks said it wasn’t enough.
“In the locker room, our fellow senior (middle blocker) Mariah (Booth) really got fired up and kind of lit a fire, and I guess it was just a little too late,” Danks said. “It was a little disappointing to see it go down like that, but you have to give it to Kentucky for being so steady and aggressive with everything they did.”
OSU coach Geoff Carlston said he knew going into this game that his team would have to defend and react well against Kentucky’s tough serves. It wasn’t the only thing that seemed to give OSU fits, though.
“We knew they were a tough serving team. They are a little bit tougher than I thought they were when I watched video last night, but we knew that coming into the game,” Carlston said. “Really they won the serve and pass game. We knew that was No. 1. We had to win that.”
Like Danks and Hole, Carlston emphasized the importance of the second set and said it might have been what cost the Buckeyes in the end.
“Whoever won (set two) was going to win the match, and they did,” Carlston said. “Especially at the end of the second set, they kept it going in the third and fourth set and we didn’t respond very well.”
The opportunities were there for OSU, though.
“Our plan was to spread out, but we just didn’t pass the ball,” Carlston said. “We passed very well in the first set and first two sets up until the very end in the second set. We had some chances to win that second set, which obviously makes it a whole different match.”
A rematch with No. 1 Penn State, which defeated the Buckeyes on Oct. 17 and Nov. 21, was something OSU was hoping for, along with advancing to the tournament’s Sweet 16 for the third straight year.
For Danks, Hole, Booth and senior setter Amanda Peterson, their journey as Buckeyes has ended, but in their time together they might have helped the program get to where it is today.
Danks, Booth and Peterson have played in the NCAA Tournament four years in a row. Hole, who transferred to Columbus after playing two years at UCLA, joined the Buckeyes for her junior and senior seasons.
This senior group has also led their team to the Sweet 16 twice, and the second round four times.
With their conference record at 13-7, they finished fourth in the Big Ten this year, which is OSU’s best finish since 2009.