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Women’s volleyball: Buckeyes Sweet Sixteen bound

Members of the Ohio State women's volleyball team celebrate after scoring against LIU Brooklyn on Sept. 2, 2016. OSU won, 3-0. Credit: Jenna Leinasars | Multimedia Editor

Members of the Ohio State women’s volleyball team celebrate after scoring against LIU Brooklyn on Sept. 2, 2016. OSU won, 3-0. Credit: Jenna Leinasars | Multimedia Editor

The Ohio State women’s volleyball team upset arguably their most important opponent this season, No. 14 Kansas State on Saturday for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament.

The Buckeyes eliminated the Wildcats in five-sets, 25-20, 25-22, 22-25, 23-25 and 17-15.

OSU secured their spot to play in Saturday’s second round by knocking off Missouri State in three sets on Friday, while the Wildcats swept Lipscomb, also on Friday.

A pinch of sibling rivalry added to the competitiveness of the evening. OSU senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe looked through the net at her younger sister, freshman middle blocker Elle Sandbothe. Before the match, Taylor took to Twitter and expressed her excitement at the opportunity to play “her best friend.” The front row match-up would prove to be a factor during the entire match.

The Buckeyes made their presence known from the beginning of the first set. A variety of hitters went to work, which resulted in an early 9-1 run for OSU. As Kansas State closed in on the OSU lead, the arena erupted, showing the home team support for the Wildcats. Sophomore setter Taylor Hughes wrangled in the final two kills of the set to give the Buckeyes the 1-0 advantage.

OSU jumped out to an early lead again to start the second set, but the Wildcats weren’t letting the Buckeyes escape without putting up a fight. Kansas State battled to put the score within two points at 14-12, but OSU’s consistency and patience shone through to maintain control of the lead.

Elle Sandbothe assisted on a major block for Kansas State, but it was immediately followed by a kill from her sister, Taylor. OSU held a narrow lead at 24-22, but sealed another set victory with a kill by sophomore outside hitter Audra Appold. After the second set, OSU was hitting .225 collectively, compared to Kansas State’s .056.

However, it was the Wildcats who came out of the intermission with the momentum on their side. They held onto the lead for the first time in the match to begin the third set as the Buckeyes’ defense and serve reception began to unravel. OSU came back with aggressive swings and gained the lead for the first time in the third set at 15-14 before a back-and-forth battle ensued between the teams.

The Wildcats focused on Taylor Sandbothe’s path and another block by her younger sister shifted the energy back to Kansas State. The Wildcats saw their first set point of the match, and the Buckeyes couldn’t counter back. Despite the Wildcat win, OSU still held the advantage 2-1 going into the fourth set.

The Kansas State crowd made their voices heard to start the fourth set, cheering after every point that dropped on OSU’s side. The noise was egged on by the point-for-point play that characterized the entire set. When the dust cleared, it was again Kansas State who stole the set victory and forced a sudden-death final set.

Errors are critical any five-set contest, and unforced errors by OSU allowed the Wildcats to take the two-point advantage 8-6 before switching sides of the court. The Buckeyes quickly changed their tone and after a handful of nail-biting final points, OSU claimed the crucial win to stay alive in the NCAA tournament.

Junior outside hitter Luisa Schirmer combined with Taylor Sandbothe for 36 kills. Sophomore setter Taylor Hughes finished with another triple-double to her name with 14 kills, 41 assists and 15 digs.

The Buckeyes are off to the Sweet Sixteen to face Big Ten rival, the Wisconsin Badgers.

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