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Women’s volleyball opens Big Ten with two Top 5 opponents

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Senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe attacking at the net in a regional semifinal against the University of Washington on Dec. 11, 2015. Credit: OSU Athletics

Senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe attacking at the net in a regional semifinal against the University of Washington on Dec. 11, 2015. Credit: OSU Athletics

After a long preseason on the road, Big Ten play has finally arrived for the Ohio State women’s volleyball team, and it will not be an easy transition for the Buckeyes.  

The No. 17 Buckeye “tribe” will battle No. 3 Wisconsin on Friday, followed by No. 2 Minnesota on Saturday. Both matches will send OSU on the road for the fifth weekend in a row this season.

This time last season, OSU went point-for-point with each of the teams, going the full five-set distance in both matches, but with different outcomes. The Buckeyes took a loss to Minnesota, but came back four days later to take down the Badgers at St. John Arena.

The veteran players on this OSU squad know exactly what to expect when the conference season rolls around.

“The Big Ten is always going to be a grind every night,” said senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe. “You’re going into battle with some of the best teams in the whole entire country.”

Sandbothe has been around long enough to face three waves of Badgers and Gophers, and this weekend will mark her fourth and final go-around to leave everything she has on the floor.

“Every time we go into a Big Ten weekend — and this being my last one, it’s kind of bittersweet — but I think it’s such an opportunity and privilege to play in this conference and see this type of volleyball all the time,” she said. “I think it’s made me the player I am today.”

Sandbothe and her teammates mentioned the energy buzzing in the arena for Big Ten matches.

This week, both of the Buckeyes’ opponents are ranked inside the top five in the country for the average crowd attendance at their matches. Between 5,000 and 6,000 Gopher and Badger fans will pour into the arenas this weekend to cheer on the home team.

The crowd’s energy is vital to any athletic event, and junior outside hitter Luisa Schirmer said she cannot wait to silence the opposing voices when her team takes the floor.

“We talk about being ‘road warriors’ all the time, and kind of shutting up the fans in their house, and I think that’s so much fun,” Schirmer said.

In addition to playing in front of large visiting crowds, the Buckeyes will go into battle with two teams armed with a deep arsenal of weapons.

Freshman Badger Molly Haggerty has already won three Big Ten honors, and just this week, she was voted American Volleyball Coaches Association Player of the Week after the team’s performance against Texas and Texas A&M. Her teammate, Tionna Williams, also earned Big Ten recognition this week and currently ranks sixth in the nation for blocks per set.

Minnesota boasts its own array of conference awards. The team’s setter, Samantha Seliger-Swenson, has earned Big Ten Setter of the Week four consecutive times already this season. The team also holds spots in the top 10 in three national statistics, including fourth in kills per set.

OSU coach Geoff Carlston said his team is going into these matches ready for war.

“I’m excited to see our team kind of being in that cauldron, be in that fire,” he said. “Our team kind of looks forward to the opportunity of having an us-against-them mentality and ‘arms locked in.’”

The strength of these opponents doesn’t come to the Buckeyes as a surprise, but Carlston said he is confident in the preparation of his team and its mindset going into this opening weekend.

“It’s not going to be an easy thing, but our team feels good about who we are and where we’re at right now,” he said.

Logically, the odds are stacked against the Buckeyes, but Schirmer sees parity throughout the conference.

“Being the nature of the Big Ten, you can beat anyone on any given day,” she said. “I don’t care about the rankings … it’s all about how we play and what we focus on.”

OSU will take on its first Big Ten foe, Wisconsin at 8 p.m. on Friday in Madison, Wisconsin. The team will then travel to Minnesota to play the Gophers at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

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