Coming into the 2015 season, the Ohio State women’s volleyball team was picked by Big Ten coaches to finish eighth in the conference.
The team has talked about using that as motivation all season long, and with victories against No. 18 Purdue (15-4, 6-2) and Indiana (12-8, 2-6) in St. John Arena over the weekend, the No. 7 Buckeyes (18-2, 7-1) now find themselves tied for first place in the Big Ten.
With the wins, OSU also extended its winning streak to seven. The Buckeyes haven’t lost since their first conference game of the year against Minnesota on Sept. 23.
In Game 1 of the weekend on Friday, OSU staged a comeback victory over the Boilermakers, who were previously undefeated in conference play.
After a hot start by the Buckeyes, they dropped the second and third sets to the Boilermakers, and looked to be in danger of having their five-game winning streak snapped when Purdue jumped out to an 8-2 advantage in the fourth. OSU was able to close the gap, however, forcing a fifth set, which it won decisively.
“We fought and we executed well in that last set,” junior libero Valeria León said. “Our tempo was really good. We got them a little bit off balance. It was a fight that game; it was not pretty at all.”
Senior middle blocker Andrea Kacsits said it was huge for the Buckeyes to escape with a win after not playing their best volleyball.
“Every win matters, but those are the ones that build your character and build your résumé,” she said. “Those ones are incredibly important in the end.”
Coming into the game, coach Geoff Carlston emphasized serving as a key to slowing down Purdue, and OSU responded with its best game of the season from the service line, racking up 13 aces. Sophomore outside hitter Luisa Schirmer led the Buckeyes with a career-high five aces, while freshman setter Taylor Hughes also set a personal-best with three.
The Buckeyes were also powered by a stout defensive performance, holding Purdue — which came into the game leading the Big Ten in attack percentage and kills per set — to a .197 attack percentage.
OSU tallied 12 total blocks, six coming from senior middle blocker Tyler Richardson (one solo) and four each from junior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe (two solo) and senior outside hitter Elizabeth Campbell. León picked up 16 digs, while Schirmer and Hughes added to their big serving nights with 15 apiece.
“People always notice the blocking and the hitting, but the little things like coverage and serving (are also important),” Sandbothe said.
To complement her blocking efforts, Sandbothe also led the OSU offense — which was held to a .232 attack percentage — with 16 kills and two aces. Campbell added to her four blocks with 11 kills and one ace. Sophomore outside hitter Ashley Wenz, who had appeared in only 12 sets all year, tied a career-best with six kills, four coming in OSU’s fourth-set comeback.
Against the Hoosiers on Sunday, the Buckeyes rebounded from a slow start to take home their seventh straight win (22-25, 25-18, 25-23, 25-18).
Behind seven kills from junior outside hitter Amelia Anderson, Indiana took an early lead as it fought off OSU in the first set. The Buckeyes would bounce back, never trailing in the second set to tie things up at the intermission. After winning a closely contested third set, OSU dominated the final set by leading the whole way.
Similarly to Friday’s match, the Buckeyes didn’t have their best game offensively with a .218 attack percentage, but dug in on defense to hold Indiana to a .160 mark.
León once again led OSU with 17 digs, while Schirmer and freshman outside hitter Audra Appold contributed 13 and 12, respectively, as the Buckeyes out-dug the Hoosiers 77-62.
OSU had 7.5 blocks — four coming in the final set of the match — led by Sandbothe’s three and two each from Campbell, Richardson and Wenz.
Sandbothe had 14 kills on offense, and did not make an error until the final set as she hit at a .565 attack percentage. Campbell (15 kills, two blocks) was the only other Buckeye to reach double-digit points.
After Wenz stepped up to lift the OSU offense in Friday’s match, senior setter Emily Ruetter did the same on Sunday. Ruetter took over for Hughes midway through the third set and picked up 19 assists, seven digs, one block and one kill.
It will be a quick turnaround for the Buckeyes, as they are scheduled to travel to East Lansing, Michigan, on Wednesday to take on Michigan State. The match is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.