After being unable to crack the code on how to beat a juggernaut Penn State program, the Ohio State women’s volleyball will look to end its first losing streak of the season on the East Coast this weekend.
The No. 12 Buckeyes (19-5, 8-4) is set to take on Maryland (12-14, 2-10) in College Park on Friday at 6:30 p.m., before heading to Piscataway, New Jersey, on Saturday to face Rutgers (4-20, 1-10) at 7 p.m.
OSU has played well following losses this season, winning 11 matches in a row after its season-opening loss to Wyoming, and seven straight after falling to Minnesota to start Big Ten play. Though it lost two games last week, the team is confident it can bounce back.
“Our team has a really good outlook,” junior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe said. “We don’t ever like to complain about things going on. We like to come in here and work hard, and take care of the things we need to take care of.”
Despite the lackluster records of its opponents, OSU isn’t going into the upcoming weekend with overconfidence.
“In the Big Ten, you can’t look over anyone,” freshman outside hitter Audra Appold said. “Anyone can win any night, so you just have to take it point-by-point, game-by-game and see what happens.”
In OSU’s first game of the weekend, it will have its hands full with the serving of Maryland. The Terrapins currently lead the Big Ten in service aces per set with 1.41.
“They get back there and rip it,” OSU coach Geoff Carlston said. “If they get on a roll, we have to figure out a way to neutralize that and get out of the rotation.”
The Terrapins are led by redshirt senior outside hitter Adreene Elliott, who leads her team and ranks ninth in the conference in kills per set with 3.36.
Historically, OSU has been successful against Maryland, winning seven of eight matches, including the last four.
Following a winless (0-20) Big Ten season for Rutgers in 2014, things haven’t been going much better for the program this season, but Carlston expects to see a team playing “inspired” volleyball.
“The second you start … looking at records and making something of that, you’re in trouble,” Carlston said. “So it’s a great weekend for us to stay focused on taking care of our business, focus on respecting the game and respecting the team on the other side of the net. The conference demands that.”
The Scarlet Knights also have a powerful outside hitter in sophomore Meme Fletcher, who averages 3.86 kills per set, the fourth-best mark in the conference.
The Buckeyes have won four of five all-time matches against the Scarlet Knights.
Hughes playing through pain
Freshman setter Taylor Hughes returned to the court in OSU’s first game against Penn State, her first action since injuring her elbow two games prior to that.
So far, she’s been eased back into the swing of things, splitting time with senior Emily Ruetter. Hughes has racked up 32 assists since her return.
Carlston said his team is taking things “day-by-day” with the freshman.
“She certainly couldn’t do things that she would normally be able to do and I think it’s important for us to get her to a point where she can,” he said.
The team may be missing its starting setter, but Sandbothe said her team feels confident with anyone on the court.
“We’re just going to keep motivating Taylor to get through it,” she said. “We’re all here for her and watching out for her. But Emily has no problem stepping up to the plate…being a senior and having that experience helps her to hone in on everyone. She’s a great leader for our team.”
Although OSU lost twice last week, it dropped only two spots in the RPI rankings to No. 6. With eight games left in the regular season, the Buckeyes are set up well to be one of the 16 schools to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.
However, the Buckeyes are fixated on the games in front of them rather than their tournament standing for now.
“We’re not getting too caught up in that,” Carlston said. “It would be great to host, but I think right now, we have eight matches left. It’s that final swing of the season. So we’re just really trying to focus on Maryland and Rutgers because those are important matches.”
Following the road trip, OSU is set to return home to host a rematch with Illinois on Nov. 11. The Buckeyes bested the Fighting Illini in four sets on Oct. 10.