The Ohio State women’s volleyball team takes on the two-time defending NCAA National Champion Penn State tonight.
The nationally televised matchup has increased the pressure to knock off the reigning champions.
After falling to Wisconsin, 3-1, the team has been through rigorous practice in preparation for Penn State.
“It’s such a quick turnaround,” coach Geoff Carlston said. “We’ve been working on our defensive energy and working on our overall ability to stop them. Then our focus will be our offensive end of it.”
This season the team has a strong mix of freshmen and returning core players. The challenge is integrating the two. The five incoming freshmen are guided by senior captains Chelsea Noble and Ashley Hughes, who have continued to own their leadership positions on the team.
“As returning captains, Noble and Hughes had a year to develop and do a good job of keeping the team together throughout the long season,” Carlston said. “They have helped the freshmen be able to come in and make an impact right away.”
The Buckeyes (14-3) fall just short of the Top 25. Five of the Top 25 are Big Ten teams.
“We are pretty athletic and dynamic as a group, which puts us in the mix with the top teams in the conference,” Carlston said.
The Buckeyes will have home-court advantage against the Nittany Lions, which they hope will eliminate distractions associated with travel.
After Penn State, the Buckeyes have a two-week stretch on the road, when they will face three Big Ten teams. No. 5 Minnesota and No. 18 Michigan State stand to shake up the Buckeyes. The third Big Ten team they play will be rival Michigan.
“Having home court advantage is a big deal,” Carlston said. “Unlike football, when we have 1,000 students in ‘Block O,’ it makes a big difference.”
The Buckeyes have several players rising to the top. Outside hitter Katie Dull is second in the Big Ten on offense, and Kelli Barhorst and Kristen Dozier are in the top 10 in the Big Ten in hitting percentages. Carlston anticipates that once the team finds its perfect balance, it will be on the fast track to the Top 25.
The Buckeyes take on the Nittany Lions 8 p.m. at St. John Arena. The match will be televised on the Big Ten Network.