Something will have to give when the No. 12 Ohio State women’s volleyball team begins Big Ten play on Wednesday.
OSU (11-1), currently in a stretch of 11 wins in a row, is set to host No. 21 Minnesota (8-2) at St. John Arena on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
After losses to Texas A&M and Stanford to begin the season, Minnesota has won its last eight matches and hasn’t lost a set in its last seven.
OSU coach Geoff Carlston said when the Golden Gophers stay in their system, they are one of the best teams in the country, and winning the serving and passing game will be crucial in order for his team to come out on top.
“If they’re comfortable, if we’re kind of playing to their strengths in terms of tempo and blocking, they’re going to be good,” Carlston said. “We need to cover the ball because they’re going to get some blocks. We’ve got to get in there and give ourselves second and third chances.”
The Golden Gophers have been strong on both sides of the net so far this season, ranking 10th in the country in blocks per set (2.94) and 13th in hitting percentage (.283). They are led by senior outside hitter Daly Santana, who is currently second in the conference with 4.59 kills per set, and junior middle blocker Paige Tapp, a preseason all-Big Ten selection whose 1.32 blocks per set rank fifth in the conference.
OSU sophomore outside hitter Luisa Schirmer said the competitive nature of the Big Ten has her excited for conference play to begin.
“There’s always a change in the atmosphere once we get into Big Ten play just because we get ranked against each other and we’re kind of out for each other’s heads,” Schirmer said.
Although the Buckeyes are in the midst of a lengthy winning streak, senior middle blocker Tyler Richardson said that team is taking things day-by-day and keeping its focus on the future.
“That’s in the past, that’s preseason,” Richardson said. “Now it’s Big Ten, it’s time to really focus and get down to business.”
For the first time in nearly a year, junior outside hitter Kylie Randall appeared in a match last weekend, picking up two kills in OSU’s win over Eastern Illinois.
Randall hadn’t played since Sept. 28 of last season due to torn ligaments in her left ankle.
After a long road to recovery, Randall said she was happy to be back on the court.
“I was just really excited to be with the girls,” she said. “I’ve been practicing throughout the summer and beginning of this preseason. Obviously it’s a lot different than last year’s team, and I’m just really excited for the future.”
Carlston said it was nice to see Randall be able to “shake off the cobwebs” and that he expects her to play a key role down the stretch for the Buckeyes.
“This Big Ten season is pretty long and grueling and so she’ll definitely be a piece of the puzzle moving forward,” Carlston said.
OSU is 34-40 all-time against Minnesota but has fared well at home, going 20-13. The two teams split a pair of five-set matches last season, with each team winning on their home courts.
Another matchup with a top-20 team awaits the Buckeyes on Sunday, as they’re set to take on No. 16 Wisconsin — which knocked OSU from the NCAA tournament last season — at St. John Arena at 2 p.m.