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Women’s volleyball: Two top-25 teams await No. 14 Buckeyes in Michigan

Senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe (left) 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 (left) 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

The Ohio State women’s volleyball team took down the No. 1 team in the country last weekend — but that doesn’t mean its conference schedule will be getting any easier.

The No. 14 Buckeyes will play two more teams ranked in the Top 25 this weekend – No. 21 Michigan State on Friday and OSU rival No. 23 Michigan, on Sunday.

On Saturday, OSU stunned fans as it took down undefeated, No. 1 Nebraska in four sets. This was the first time that OSU has won against a top-ranked team on the road and the third consecutive time the Buckeyes have been victorious on the Husker home court.

Junior outside hitter Ashley Wenz said the team’s performance in Lincoln, Nebraska, was a great opportunity for people to see what Buckeye volleyball is all about.

“The Nebraska match really gave us a chance to prove ourselves, and really bring us together as a team and show what we’re capable of,” she said.

Wenz feels that if the team can channel its energy from the match against the Huskers into the rest of its play, the team will be able to have repeated success.

“I think that bottling up the feeling and the unity we had during that match, (we’re) trying to replicate it against every opponent,” she said.

First, the Buckeyes will have to battle the Spartans on Friday. Over the past two seasons, the series is split between the two teams. Currently, Michigan State holds a 13-3 record.

OSU coach Geoff Carlston gave credit to the Spartans for being what he considers one of the most physically dominant teams in the nation.

He added that his team’s ability to slow down Michigan State hitters will be key to OSU’s success.

“They just hit the ball hard,” he said. “So our ability to slow them down with our block is going to be important.”

Currently, both Michigan State and Michigan are ranked above the Buckeyes in blocks for the Big Ten conference.

A player that will be imperative to the Buckeyes’ blocking game is senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe. She is averaging 1.05 blocks per set, and has combined for 61 total blocks this season. Sandbothe ranks second in most career blocks in OSU history with 481.

Sandbothe received both conference and national recognition this week: Big Ten Player of the Week and the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association’s National Player of the Week.

She was joined by fellow senior, libero Valeria León, who won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and sophomore setter Taylor Hughes, who clinched the espnW National Player of the Week.

After their bout with the Spartans, the Buckeyes will have a day off before visiting the Michigan Wolverines. Members of OSU’s team noted that this match always comes with a little extra motivation behind it.

“The seniors always talk about it. You can feel it. There’s always a little edge to the match, a little more so than all of the other ones,” Carlston said.

One of the members of Carlston’s senior leadership, León, added that she loves the environment of playing at Michigan. “We go out there — you have so many fans against you — and it’s all blue and yellow,” she said.

The Wolverines are also carrying a 13-3 record this season. In 2015, OSU was able to pull off a 3-1 win while in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but the Scarlet and Gray were swept by the Wolverines at St. John Arena in the next matchup.

Wenz, who hails from Springboro, Ohio, is hopeful that her team can keep their victory train rolling with a win over “That Team Up North.”

“Being from Ohio, it’s always great to beat them,” she said. “So hopefully we can continue that streak.”

The Buckeyes will first play Michigan State at 7 p.m. on Friday in East Lansing, Michigan, followed by the match against Michigan at 1 p.m. on Sunday in Ann Arbor.

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