The Ohio State women’s volleyball team cracked the top 10 in the coaches poll following its 3-1 home stand to open up Big Ten play. Now, the ninth-ranked Buckeyes are leaving Columbus for their first conference road test.
OSU (14-2, 3-1) is set face off against a pair of Illinois-based teams, taking on Northwestern (10-5, 2-2) in Evanston on Friday at 8 p.m. and No. 13 Illinois (11-4, 2-2) on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Champaign.
As they’re preparing to embark on their first road trip of conference play, the Buckeyes are embracing the notion of being “road warriors,” senior outside hitter Katie Mitchell said.
“When you’re playing in the Big Ten, everyone loves to hate Ohio State or Penn State,” Mitchell said. “So it’s a lot of fun to get into that environment where everyone’s against you. It’s Ohio against the world, as cliché as that sounds.”
OSU coach Geoff Carlston said away games, especially in the Big Ten — which has seven top-25 teams in the latest installment of the coaches poll — can show a lot about a team and their growth.
“You play in front of a bunch of people in a hostile environment, that’s great,” Carlston said. “What does that say about you and how do you respond from it and enjoy being in front of people who are rooting against you?”
Just like last week, OSU doesn’t want look ahead to the Saturday match. Carlston said while Northwestern doesn’t get the attention that other teams in the Big Ten do, the Wildcats are a dangerous team.
“They don’t get a lot of the hub, which I’m sure (Wildcats coach) Keylor (Chan) is using to his advantage, as we’ve tried to along the way,” Carlston said. “Everyone wants to talk about Nebraska and Penn State and Illinois and Minnesota … and Northwestern is slowly just having a really nice year.”
When the Buckeyes do turn their attention to the Fighting Illini, they’ll have another tough task at hand. Illinois has lost four games on the season, but all have come against top-20 teams.
“Illinois is always a good program,” Mitchell said. “And they’ve got the craziest student section. I love playing at Illinois.”
Illinois is led by three-time preseason all-Big Ten selection Jocelynn Birks, a senior outside hitter who ranks fifth in the conference in kills per set (3.9).
As a team, Illinois averages 2.65 blocks per set, ranking fourth in the conference. Mitchell said the height of the Fighting Illini will be a challenge for the Buckeyes.
“They have some physically dominant and larger-sized players in terms of height, so that’s going to be a battle of the big kids out there,” she said.
Appold wins two weekly Big Ten honors
Freshman outside hitter Audra Appold was named the Big Ten’s co-Player of the Week — alongside Purdue senior middle blocker Annie Drews — for her efforts in OSU’s wins over Iowa and Nebraska. Appold had 32 kills and 25 digs in the two matches, including her first career double-double in OSU’s upset win over No. 4 Nebraska (22 kills, 17 digs).
Appold was also named the conference’s freshman of the week.
“It’s awesome because there’s so much talent in the Big Ten, and to be recognized is really cool,” Appold said.
OSU defeated Northwestern in their only matchup last season in four sets, and is 52-20 in the all-time series with the Wildcats.
Illinois has proven to be a tougher test for OSU. The teams split their two matches last season, with each winning on its home floor, and the Buckeyes have an overall record of 36-40 against the Fighting Illini.
The Buckeyes will return home for two games next weekend as they are set to play No. 19 Purdue on Oct. 16 and Indiana on Oct. 18.