It’s been 297 days since the Ohio State women’s volleyball team last saw the floor at St. John Arena. Tonight marked the first home game for the Buckeyes and another win, improving to 11-4 on the season.
No. 19 OSU swept Big Ten foe Northwestern in three sets during the Buckeyes’ home opener at St. John Arena, on Wednesday.
A different combination of Buckeye players worked together in the match due to sophomore outside hitter Audra Appold sitting out with an illness. The change in lineup, however, wasn’t enough to derail OSU.
A kill by senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe scored the first point of the first set, and from there, the momentum continued for the OSU squad. The Buckeyes jumped out to an early lead and were able to battle off several Northwestern rallies. Junior outside hitter Luisa Schirmer finished the final ball to win the set, 25-21.
OSU kept the points coming in the second set, leading by double digits for the latter half. The Buckeyes dominated play, holding the Wildcats to only twelve points.
Northwestern may have been down 0-2 in the match, but it showed in the third set, they weren’t giving up easily. The Wildcats led OSU from the beginning, as the Buckeyes would try to inch their way out of the hole for almost the entire set.
With the Wildcats leading 20-16, it looked like match play might be pushed into a fourth set. OSU coach Geoff Carlston took the opportunity for a timeout to refocus his team.
Immediately after, Schirmer put down a kill, followed by two more OSU points to cut the deficit to one. From there, it would be a point-for-point battle to the finish. When the dust cleared, it was OSU who would celebrate with a 28-26 set and match win.
The Buckeyes held the Wildcats to an .085 attacking efficiency. OSU also dominated Northwestern’s blocking game, more than doubling their total team blocks, 7.5 to 3.0. It was freshman Madison Smeathers who would lead the team in hitting percentage with .500. Sandbothe and Schirmer also contributed 13 kills each.
The countdown is on for senior libero Valeria León, who racked up another 22 digs against the Wildcats. With 1,497 total career digs, she is within fingertip-length of the record, currently held by Stacey Gordon with 1,572.
Carlston said he was proud of the way his team responded to the pressure from Northwestern, especially in the final points of the match.
“Northwestern did some things to stress us out,” he said. “I thought we did a nice job, especially in that third set, to lock in and play really well like what we needed to, to win in three.”
Some Buckeye players expressed their happiness to finally be able to play in the gym they call home, even if it’s only for a moment. For Sandbothe, the match was her last “first” home game.
“It was definitely bittersweet,” Sandbothe said. “The fans came out and seeing all the little girls and just having this opportunity to be on our home court, representing Ohio State is an amazing opportunity.”
On the other end of the spectrum, tonight was freshman outside hitter Brooke Bailey’s first time playing in front of a home crowd as a Buckeye.
“We’ve been away a lot in preseason and our first Big 10 games were away, so it was really exciting to be home,” Bailey said.
The team will need the momentum from tonight’s win into their battle later in the week against defending national champions, No. 1, undefeated, Nebraska.
The team mentioned what they will be thinking about over the next few days in preparation for the match. For veteran Sandbothe, the devil is in the details.
“Just weighing the serve and pass game is going to be really important for us,” Sandbothe said. “I think we match up offensively and physically with every team, so just focusing on the little things.”
Bailey said for the team, it’s about staying high and positive from tonight’s much-needed victory.
“We’re just going to try to bring our energy from tonight into the weekend, and just keep going after it and staying aggressive,” she said.
OSU will face the Cornhuskers on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in Lincoln, Nebraska.