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Volleyball preview: Buckeyes season on the line in the Sweet 16 against No. 3 Wisconsin

Senior setter Abby Fesl (12) sets the ball during a game against Penn State on Nov. 12 at St. John Arena. Credit: Jenna Leinasars | Assistant News Director

Senior setter Abby Fesl (12) sets the ball during a game against Penn State on Nov. 12 at St. John Arena. Credit: Jenna Leinasars | Assistant News Director

It’s back to the Sweet 16 for the Ohio State women’s volleyball team for the second consecutive year – but if the Buckeyes want to advance any further in the NCAA tournament, they will have to make it past Big Ten rival, Wisconsin.

The teams face off for the third time this season in the Sweet 16 match of the NCAA tournament, to be played in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday afternoon.

The No. 3-seeded Badgers had given OSU trouble the season, sweeping the Buckeyes once at home and once in Madison, both during conference play.

But OSU coach Geoff Carlston said records mean nothing when it’s time to step on the floor.

“Everyone is 0-0 right now and everyone is — if you win, you move on and if you lose, you’re done,” he said.

To get to this point in the tournament, Wisconsin has swept both Howard University and Washington State. The Badgers boast a dynamic offense composed of five hitters attacking at least .235 on the season and led by senior setter Lauren Carlini.

For the Buckeyes, the team has knocked off Missouri State and most recently, won a five-set nail-biter against Kansas State on Dec. 3. Junior outside hitter Ashley Wenz said when the team was down, they looked to the upperclassmen for inspirational leadership.

“Looking at our seniors, really seeing that they could see the end of the road and being able to play for them,” she said. “I think that’s what really brought our team together at the end of that last fifth set … realizing it’s bigger than yourself.”

Wenz added that preparing for the upcoming match will be slightly easier because the Buckeyes are familiar with Wisconsin’s style of play. She said OSU will be focusing on perfecting the mental aspects of the match leading up to Friday.

“We’re really working on the mental side of the game, staying focused and mentally sharp,” she said. “Physically, we know what we have to do, so just taking it up a notch.”

Friday’s match conjures up a feeling of déjà vu from 2014. The Buckeyes and Badgers had both made it to the Sweet 16 match, but it was Wisconsin that pulled out the 3-2 victory and effectively ended OSU’s season, before losing to Penn State the following match. OSU led 2-1 in the match.

Wisconsin has been a Big Ten powerhouse for the past few years, and Carlston said giving away easy points is something the Buckeyes cannot afford to do if the Buckeyes want to keep their season alive.

“You can’t play average,” he said. “They’re a senior-driven team, and they have their leadership and they’ve played a hard schedule like all of us have had.”

OSU is banking on its resume of experiences to have success over Wisconsin, which includes playing “in the fire” that is the Big Ten conference, as well coming out on top in exhausting five-sets matches. Carlston said his team has improved in their perseverance and level-headedness over the course of the season.

“What (winning those five-set matches) says is our team is learning to play and has learned to play pretty well under pressure, and we’re going to need that on the road this weekend,” he said.

The Buckeyes and Badgers go head-to-head at 2 p.m. on Friday in Madison. The match will be broadcasted on ESPNU.

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