The No. 19 Ohio State women’s volleyball team couldn’t have asked for a better ending to its nonconference season.
Just like dominos, three teams fell to the Buckeyes. Not to mention, all of the matches were three-set sweeps. OSU dominated the competition to clinch the Ball State Active Ankle Challenge title on Saturday in Muncie, Indiana.
Valparaiso was the first of the Buckeyes’ victims on Friday, followed by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The Ball State Cardinals gave OSU the biggest run for its money on Saturday, but it was the Buckeye “tribe” who came out on top.
Senior libero Valeria León, senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe and sophomore outside hitter Audra Appold earned all-tournament honors. León earned the tournament MVP title with 3.78 digs per set. Sandbothe and León have been named to all-tournament squads in three of the past four weekend tournaments.
Valparaiso hung with the Buckeyes in the first set until OSU started to pull away at 19-13, with credit to the power of middle blockers Sandbothe and freshman Madison Smeathers. An assisted block from Sandbothe and senior middle blocker Kylie Randall sealed the win in the first set, 25-17.
OSU jumped out to an early lead in the second set and eventually put away the Crusaders, 25-13. Junior outside hitter Luisa Schirmer contributed five kills to the Buckeye offense.
A block by Smeathers and Schirmer for the final point in the third set would wrangle in the victory for OSU, 25-18.
Sandbothe led the offense for the Buckeyes with a .458 hitting percentage, followed by a strong performance from Appold who hit .364. OSU more than doubled the Crusaders in kills, 50 to 19.
Errors on OSU’s side of the net and an aggressive UNCG team kept the first set of the match close, with nine times during the opening frame. A final Spartan timeout wasn’t enough to hold back Sandbothe. She closed out the set with three kills, making the score 25-20 going into the second set.
The Buckeyes would shut down the UNCG offense in the next set. OSU went on a seven-point run to win 25-12. The third and final set showcased OSU’s “tribe” motto with six players slamming down kills for the 25-14 set and match win.
Randall, Schirmer and Appold all had an errorless hitting performances. Appold also tied León for a team-high 10 digs, and Sandbothe walked away from the match with a monstrous .615 attacking percentage.
OSU’s final match carried some weight with it – the last nonconference match for the team and a tournament title on the line.
The momentum from the Buckeyes’ previous two matches carried into the first set against the Cardinals. Despite a couple of four-point leads by Ball State, OSU battled back to eventually take the advantage, 17-16 on a service ace by Sandbothe.
Another service ace by sophomore setter Taylor Hughes coming out of a Cardinal timeout was enough to push the Buckeyes to secure a first-win set, 25-21.
In the second, Smeathers went to work on defense, assisting on three blocks and stuffing the Cardinals’ Sydnee Vanbeek for a solo block. OSU took the second set, 25-17.
Two early three-point runs put the Buckeyes up 9-2 in the final set. Ball State would have its own five-point run later in the game to tighten the set, two OSU kills and an attacking error for the Cardinals would give the Buckeyes the set win, the match win and complete the perfect trifecta of tournament play.
Hughes racked up 36 assists during the match, and five out of six OSU hitters hit above .300. Sandbothe and Appold combined for 27 kills against the Cardinals.
The women’s volleyball team improved to 10-2 on the season and will challenge its first Big Ten opponent when they travel to Wisconsin on Sept. 23.