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No. 19 OSU women’s volleyball sees opportunity in weekend matchup at No. 1 Nebraska

Senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe embraces senior middle blocker Kylie Randall after OSU's 3-0 win over Northwestern at St. John Arena on Sept. 28, 2016. Credit: Jenna Leinasars | Assistant News Director

Senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe embraces senior middle blocker Kylie Randall after OSU’s 3-0 win over Northwestern at St. John Arena on Sept. 28, 2016. Credit: Jenna Leinasars | Assistant News Director

Nearly a year ago, the then-No. 13 Ohio State women’s volleyball team was celebrating a five-set victory over then-No. 4 Nebraska in St. John Arena. One year later, the Buckeyes are preparing to battle the Cornhuskers once again, but this time Nebraska will be carrying heavy hardware into the match — the 2015 National Championship trophy.

No. 19 OSU will travel to Lincoln, Nebraska, to battle the No. 1 Cornhuskers on Saturday. Nebraska remains undefeated this season and the match will prove to be OSU’s toughest challenge to date.

In the past five years, Nebraska has been ranked inside the top-10 four times. The Buckeyes have posted an 11-4 record so far in 2016 with multiple five-set matches, while the Cornhuskers have only seen one five-set match (Michigan State) since their season began on Aug. 26. OSU has recorded wins on three out of the last four matches with Nebraska.

The winner might seem like a statistically easy choice. OSU has different expectations though, and the team plans to go into Saturday’s match with a level head and high energy.

Sophomore setter Taylor Hughes was on the 2015 team and experienced last year’s five-set win. According to Hughes, it’s Nebraska’s match to win.

“The opportunity is definitely huge, to compete, to show what we’re about. Go in there without any regrets and leaving with no regrets,” she said. “They’re the ones that are nervous and have something to lose, but we have nothing to lose.”

Hughes’s teammate, freshman middle blocker Madison Smeathers, had her first taste of Big Ten play last weekend against Wisconsin and Minnesota. She said she’s ready for the challenge Saturday poses.

“I’m really excited. I think it’s a big way we can turn some heads and show them what Buckeye volleyball is really all about,” she said.

Nebraska is hitting .330 as a team so far this season, led by senior outside hitter, Kadie Rolfzen. She recorded 38 kills and is credited with 46.5 points from the past three matches.

On the Buckeyes’ side of the net, the team is hitting at an average clip of .251, spearheaded by the swinging power of senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe. Sandbothe is also hitting at an average of .330 on the season and has combined for 52 blocks.

The last time OSU took a loss to Nebraska, Sandbothe was in her freshman season. She says she would love to be part of another Buckeye victory.

“It would be incredible,” she said. “The Big Ten is a grind, and every match you’re going to play is going to be like a top-five match, so just having that mindset and knowing that we deserve to be there.”

The Buckeyes will be going into the match coming off of a three-set sweep at their home opener versus Northwestern on Wednesday.

OSU coach Geoff Carlston said he’ll be working with his team to develop comfort in a new lineup.

Sophomore outside hitter Audra Appold was out on Wednesday due to illness, which forced Carlston to switch up players and positions. He says the team will be practicing to perfect the change in the coming days before they face Nebraska.

Freshman outside hitter Brooke Bailey saw her first Big Ten start against Northwestern on Wednesday and said she hopes her team can keep the mojo rolling from their last win.

“We’re just going to try to bring our energy from tonight into the weekend, just keep going after it and staying aggressive,” she said.

The Buckeyes will face with the Cornhuskers at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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