Daniel Chi / Asst. photo editor
After playing in four tournaments in three different states, the No. 23 Ohio State women’s volleyball team will open the Big Ten season with a game against Iowa on Friday at St. John Arena.
As the Buckeyes (9-3) prepare for Big Ten teams in Iowa and No. 3 Nebraska this weekend, some players are anxious and ready to start Big Ten play after a tough non-conference schedule.
“(I’m) so excited. I mean we’ve had a really hard preseason, which probably will help us out with different styles of play and the atmosphere. Other than that I am really excited,” said freshman middle blocker Andrea Kacsits.
Coach Geoff Carlston said he’s looking forward to the challenge of conference play and acknowledged that being back home is something he has missed.
“I mean, it’s nice to be back home in front of our fans,” Carlston said. “It feels like it’s been a long time since we have been home or opened a game at home, so we’re excited to be back home, back in our own beds and in front of our own people. I think the players are as excited as I am, as it is a beginning of a new season.”
Early into the season, OSU has played its fair share of top-ranked opponents, such as then No. 10-ranked Dayton, then No. 18-ranked Pepperdine, then No. 20-ranked Oregon and then No. 11-ranked Florida State.
Even though OSU went 1-4 against ranked opponents, Carlston has no regrets about putting together a challenging schedule for his team.
“We scheduled really hard, so to be 9-3 and ranked in the top 25, you know we feel pretty good about that,” Carlston said. “Looking back, I feel pretty good about scheduling tough because there’s teams in our conference that went 12-0 and I’m pretty sure they’re pretty confident, but it’s just a different animal when it comes to the Big Ten conference games.”
Senior outside hitter Mari Hole agreed with her coach, and took it a step further by explaining how the tough non-conference schedule has prepared them physically and mentally for one of the best volleyball conferences in the country.
“I feel like we’re ready. We had a tough preseason, which is a good thing since the Big Ten is a tough league, so we kind of already have that mental state where every game is going to be tough,” Hole said. “Going into Iowa won’t be a big difference. The exciting thing is going to be our Big Ten opener and our home opener, which is just great.”
Although OSU will be playing against Iowa first, fans are looking ahead to their showdown against No. 3 Nebraska, but players and coaches have made sure that their minds are solely focused on Iowa.
“Our main priority is Iowa, who we play first,” Hole said. “We have to win that game first, and then we will switch over to Nebraska.”
For Hole, even though they are going up against one of the top teams in the country, she knows that her team can compete with them.
“They’re obviously good,” Hole said. “If you’re ranked that high, you’re very good. We also know from last year, we were close. We almost beat them at home, so we know we can compete with them. It will be a really tough game, but hopefully we can come out with a win.”
While OSU’s three losses were hard on the team, players have responded well to adversity and learned from those tight games.
“Well, you always move on from games, but you don’t forget,” Hole said.
“We learned a lot from those games as well, which we are bringing into the Big Ten season, that will hopefully help us come out with more wins.”
Kacsits believes those losses have put her and her teammates in a great position to be an even stronger team.
“I feel like we’re actually in a really great place,” Kacsits said. “We didn’t play as well in Houston as we had expected or as we had hoped, but we had that low, which makes us a better team going into the games against Iowa and Nebraska.”
Kacsits, who will be playing in her first Big Ten game on Sept. 21, explained what she is looking forward to the most.
“I’m really, really excited for the atmosphere. I think that it is going to be so much fun,” Kacsits said. “Coming out of high school volleyball, you know, your high school can only prepare you so much for a crowd that big. It’s just because it is Big Ten volleyball that makes it bigger.”
Hole said there’s never an easy game in the Big Ten.
“It’s the fact that the teams in the conferences are just strong,” Hole said. “We have the audience, the band’s coming, student sections; the atmosphere itself is just great to play in.”
Carlston said the opportunity to play against some of the greatest coaches to ever coach volleyball and to be in the best conference for women’s volleyball is what excites him about the Big Ten.
“It’s the best conference in the country for women’s volleyball, there’s no doubt about it,” Carlston said. “Just from the fans, the Big Ten network and level of competition from top to bottom, there’s nothing like it. You’re coaching against some of the best coaches in the country, some of the best to ever coach volleyball, and our players are playing against some of the best players.”
Carlston said he believes his team is ready and, at the end of the day, it’s up to him and his team to fight for what they want.
“It’s going to come down to us being prepared, competing and not over-analyzing the game plan,” Carlston said.
The Big Ten conference has seven ranked teams including the Buckeyes, but OSU players know that anything can happen.
“The biggest thing I learned is everyone is beatable and that everybody can come back from anything,” Kacsits said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Penn State, Oregon or Nebraska; it is completely possible to come back from big losses and to be consistent after big wins.”