Daniel Chi / Asst. photo editor
With the first half of the season in the tank, finishing strong in the Big Ten will be the focus as the No. 20 Ohio State women’s volleyball team tries to shift into second gear.
The Buckeyes own a 15-7 overall record and a 6-4 record in the conference play.
Despite sitting fourth in the Big Ten standings, coach Geoff Carlston said his team still has a lot of work to do this season.
“I think the good thing is we will all admit that we have some areas of improvement, and I think our defense has really picked it up and it’s just a lot of little things now,” Carlston said.
The Buckeyes have had some impressive wins this season, mainly on the road. Early in the season, OSU upset then-No. 10 Dayton, then-No. 21 Illinois and won a pivotal Big Ten matchup against Michigan State.
“We had some big-time road wins and more big wins in general,” said junior libero Julianne Mandolfo.
Mandolfo said she understands the team needs to stay focused and continue to work hard to finish the way they want to through the second half of its season.
“We just need to keep doing the same things that we’re doing, but just add a little bit more to each game,” Mandolfo said. “Some of the losses were two-point differences, so if we just clean up a couple of points in those losses (they) can become wins in the second half.”
The team’s most recent losses included then-No. 17 Purdue and then-No. 1 Penn State.
Senior outside hitter Mari Hole said one of the biggest things the team needs to work on is mental toughness.
“Looking at the last few games, we still lack some mental strength,” Hole said. “We need to be better at finishing games. We’re good at it, but we’re not great at it.”
Carlston said he continues to push his players to be tougher and smarter.
“Making those plays at 24 all in the Big Ten on the road requires serving a little tougher, changing the offense … just offensive tweaks and defensive tweaks,” Carlston said. “You got to come into the second round of the Big Ten ready to adapt and ready to be fluid because everyone kind of knows each other a little bit more.”
What might set the good teams apart from great ones are the type of plays they make from the 18th point to the 25th point in a game. It’s an area Mandolfo said she sees as an issue.
“We’ve actually learned that throughout the whole game, we’ve kept one-on-one with every single team in the Big Ten,” Mandolfo said. “The games we have slipped up and lost, we’ve noticed that at 18 (points), we’ve done some mental errors.”
Oftentimes, the halfway mark for any team marks a time for players and coaches to look back and reflect upon their performances to measure where they are.
“I still know that there is still a lot that we can work on, but to be honest, I still don’t think we hit our max effort, so that’s always good,” Mandolfo said.
Carlston said he is eager for the second half of the season to begin.
“I’m excited where our team is,” Carlston said. “We got some good mojo, team chemistry is strong, and the team is feeling good about themselves. So I’m excited to get into the last half.”
Hole said she is enjoying every second of her final season as a Buckeye and looks forward to the second act of what has been a fast-paced season.
“I’m just starting to get really excited about the whole thing,” Hole said. “Just taking one game at a time, I am just enjoying it. And the fact that I’m a senior, it’s fun.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled to travel to Lincoln, Neb., to face the No. 4 Cornhuskers Friday, and then travel to Iowa City, Iowa, to battle the Hawkeyes on Saturday.
The Buckeyes lost 3-1 to Nebraska in Columbus on Sept. 22 and they are looking to avenge that loss.
“Nebraska came to our place and beat us, so we’re looking forward to revenge, obviously,” Mandolfo said. “Since I’m from there, all my family is going to be there. So it’s just going to be even more motivation to get a win there.”
On the road, the Buckeyes have totaled a 7-1 mark compared to their 4-4 record at home.
“I think for whatever reason, this group has been strong on the road, so I don’t think we mind being on the road at all,” Carlston said. “If you’re going to beat Nebraska at home, beat Iowa at home, you got to play well for two hours.”
Hole felt similarly.
“Nebraska is a good team, and it’s going to be a battle,” Hole said. “We are definitely the underdogs, but I think that is in our favor.”
Carlston said his team will be ready.
“There’s something about this group that they’re not afraid to go on the road and battle,” he said.