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Leadership contributing to No. 13 Ohio State women’s volleyball’s hot start

OSU freshman setter Taylor Hughes (6) sets the ball during a match against Florida State on Sept. 6 at St. John Arena. Credit: Ashley Roudebush / For The Lantern

OSU freshman setter Taylor Hughes (6) sets the ball during a match against Florida State on Sept. 6 at St. John Arena. Credit: Ashley Roudebush / For The Lantern

The Ohio State women’s volleyball team has started off the season going 8-1, including three victories over top 25 teams in then-No. 14 Florida State twice and then-No. 13 Arizona.

Before the 13th-ranked Buckeyes open conference play with No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 23 Minnesota next week at St. John Arena, the team has three final nonconference matchups in Rochester, Michigan, against Eastern Illinois, Western Michigan and Oakland.

OSU plays in statistically the toughest conference and has the ninth toughest schedule overall in the NCAA.

A key contributor to OSU’s success so far this season has been junior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe. The third-year starter put together strong performances in the D.C. Koehl Classic tournament, including a match against Florida State in which she tallied zero hitting errors. Sandbothe is second on the team in kills with 110 kills, and has a .419 hitting percentage through nine matches, 33rd best in the country.       

“You need players like that,” coach Geoff Carlston said about the Big Ten co-Player of the Week. “She’s certainly one of the kids we’re looking to for those moments.”

Sandbothe said she sees herself as a player who likes to lead the rest of her team by example.

“All of us have a passion for the game, and if I can influence my team by having that swagger and confidence on the court, that’s the player I want to be,” she said. “And if my teammates can look to me to be that kind of player consistently, I feel like that’s a privilege for me.”

With two freshmen and four sophomores on the roster, Carlston said he looks to the seniors for leadership but has equally been impressed by the juniors.

“I think our younger players tend to gravitate toward other people,” he said. “Our juniors have really stepped up in terms of taking on that leadership role. I’ve seen them keeping our team relaxed and in the moments.”

Along with Sandbothe, junior libero Valeria León — the team’s defensive leader — said she takes on some of the responsibility of assisting the freshmen and sophomores in understanding how to play in big games.

“We always talk about staying in the moment,” León said. “Don’t get excited, don’t get too nervous.”

OSU returned most of its key players from last year’s squad that was a set away from an Elite Eight appearance — which would have been the first in Carlston’s tenure at OSU — and an improved 12-8 conference record from the 2013 season, when the Buckeyes were 6-14 in Big Ten play.

León said she sees the team continuing its strong start through conference play and into the NCAA tournament.

“After this year, I’m going to be a senior so right now, I’m approaching this year like it’s my last one,” León said. “I think we have a pretty good chance to make it far this year. I’m really excited for this team.”

Sandbothe echoed the libero’s enthusiasm about the team.

“Our team definitely has a dynamic and chemistry unlike we’ve ever had,” Sandbothe said. “Don’t count us out for being a Final Four team — and winning the Big Ten.”

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