Daniel Chi / Photo editor
Ohio State women’s volleyball’s second win of the season against Illinois might best capture the spirit of this Buckeyes team.
The No. 15 Buckeyes beat their rivals, 3-2, at St. John Arena on Saturday, marking the first time they have swept the Fighting Illini since 2007.
With the victory, the Buckeyes improve to 20-8 on the year and chalk up their fourth straight 20-win season under coach Geoff Carlston.
Senior outside hitter Emily Danks remembers the three losses her team suffered at the hands of the Fighting Illini last year. This season, though, the team was able to turn around and beat Illinois twice and achieve its goal of avenging their losses.
“It’s awesome, I mean, Illinois is always a very talented team and you know they always bring their ‘A’ game,” Danks said. “To pull out a win against such an amazing team feels really good and just makes us feel hopeful for the rest of the season.”
Carlston said he believes playing challenging games early in the year effectively prepared them for such a contest.
“Our team has learned to thrive under stress and pressure, and we seemed to get a little better in those moments,” Carlston said. “I think that’s a product of a really tough schedule. We’ve been there a lot, you know, being down and have teams at match point against us. So it wasn’t the first time we were there and I think that is invaluable.”
In a game where every serve proved to be as critical as every error, Danks recalled a moment during an important part of the fifth set where Illinois got an ace to go up by one point.
“We ran to the middle and we just said, ‘Guys focus here, we just need one good pass, one good point, one good play and this game is ours,'” Danks said.
That huddle seemed to be the deciding factor that fired up the Buckeyes as they battled past Illinois (11-15) with a final score of 17-15 in the final set.
Freshman middle blocker Andrea Kacsits said this game meant more than just another “W.”
“It was huge honestly,” Kacsits said. “It’s really hard to gauge it because every win you have in the Big Ten is a big game. I mean, with losing to Minnesota so hard on Wednesday , I think that this (game) was a big confidence booster, as well as a good game for our ranking.”
Danks said she was proud of her team right after the Buckeyes accomplished the winning kill to secure their victory.
“Towards the middle of the game, we were saying our outsides were trying to be too shotty , and we just said swing away, be aggressive,” Danks said. “They took that last swing and just swung for the hands. It was awesome. I was so happy for them and so glad I could be on the court.”
Winning a five-set match might be a feat in itself, especially against a team as talented as Illinois . But Carlston said the victory allowed them to showcase something besides their talent and athletic abilities on the court.
“You know, they’re (Illinois), a team that was in the Final Four last year, and they’re a great team, well-coached,” Carlston said. “So I think for us to be able to kick, bite, scratch and battle for that win says a lot about this group. You know we lost a tough five-gamer last time we were in that moment, and we were able to come back and win this one says a lot about our character.”
That character might be held together by the Buckeyes’ senior leadership.
“I think our seniors do a huge job of keeping everybody consistent, whether that is consistently high emotions or consistently middle emotions, they will never let us go down,” Kacsits said.
Carlston said the most impressive thing that he took away from the game was the importance of stepping up.
“I think those moments when we made some changes late in the game, and players who weren’t maybe playing a lot during the match came in and made plays,” Carlston said. “I think our two outsides Mari (Hole) and Kaitlyn (Leary) took some huge swings in pressure situations. Kaitlyn had two swings in really tough situations at match point against us and got kills both times, and that’s huge.”
Hole was named the Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday following a week which saw the senior outside hitter amass 40 kills, 42.5 points and 25 digs in games against Northwestern on Wednesday and the Illini on Saturday.
Carlston said the team never gives up.
“That’s a quality that I appreciate about them, and it’s one of those qualities that not every team has,” Carlston said. “So it’s credit to them and credit to those 15 players that are putting on the jerseys.”
OSU is next slated to face Purdue on Friday in West Lafayette, Ind., at 7 p.m.