Daniel Chi / Asst. photo editor
Ohio State women’s volleyball senior outside hitter Emily Danks’ first Big Ten opponent as a freshman was Illinois, and the Fighting Illini welcomed her to conference play with tough love in the form of stuffed blocks. She hasn’t forgotten that experience.
“(Illinois) was definitely a wake-up call that this is a really tough league,” Danks said of the freshman-year match. “I just remember getting stuffed blocks over and over again as a little freshman, so it was so rewarding to finally be a senior and show that we can do this, we can beat Illinois.”
Defeating Illinois, 3-2, on Friday was about more than just revenge, though.
“I think it’s almost just more of a personal moral victory. We were kind of sick of losing to them three times, and we wanted to prove that we could come back and win. I think we did a really good job of that.”
The Buckeyes rallied to win three straight games to climb out of a 0-2 hole and defeat the then-No. 21-ranked Illini on Saturday to improve to 13-5 on the year. OSU will look to ride that momentum into its two home matches this weekend against Indiana and Purdue.
Defeating Illinois was something senior outside hitter Mari Hole said was gratifying.
“It was fun to finally be able to actually finish the game, especially since we were down, 2-0, which is always a hard thing to come back from,” Hole said. “As a team, we really fought our way back and everyone contributed one way or another.”
Coach Geoff Carlston knows that the percentages of winning on the road, especially being down 2-0, let alone in the competitive Big Ten conference, are very slim. Carlston said he was proud of his team’s comeback against a team that has had the Buckeyes’ number in recent history.
“It was really cool,” Carlston said. “You know it’s really hard … when you’re down 0-2, it’s a really low percentage of teams that come back to win, it’s even lower when you’re on the road and it’s even lower on the road in the Big Ten. I was really proud of our group, how they responded in a hostile environment.”
Carlston described the comeback victory against Illinois as a “breakthrough” for his squad and said it should build their confidence for the rest of the season, adding that the seniors’ performance was “inspiring.”
“It was great to see,” Carlston said. “I really thought our seniors did an awesome job of being the face, being the eyes and the voice that the rest of the group needed to believe it. If they don’t believe it, if they’re not doing the right things at the right moment, than it doesn’t happen.”
So far into this season, the Buckeyes have found a common theme: resiliency.
“It says that we are a strong team and we’re not easily defeated,” Hole said. “Just shows that you can never just count us off, even if you’re up 2-0. We will fight for every point.”
After playing four consecutive Big Ten games on the road, the Buckeyes will try to use their resiliency to protect the home court against Indiana on Friday and No. 17 Purdue on Saturday at St. John Arena.
Despite their 8-10 overall record , Carlston pointed out that Indiana is better than what their record shows.
“We play Indiana on Friday, and they almost beat Nebraska at Nebraska this past weekend,” Carlston said. “Our focus is really on Indiana. I think they are an overlooked team; they’re pretty good.”
Although Indiana has lost six consecutive games in a row , Carlston once again emphasized that every team is dangerous in this conference.
“You just assume everyone is really good,” Carlston said. “Last week is a great example that anyone in our conference can beat anyone and I think people don’t think that, but they do now.”
Indiana freshman setter Katie Gallagher, senior setter Whitney Granado and redshirt junior outside hitter Jordan Haverly have helped lead the Indiana team, which will try to control the pacing of the game against the Buckeyes.
On Saturday, the Buckeyes will face Purdue, which has a 13-4 overall record. The Boilermakers’ lineup features one of the best players in the country in senior outside hitter Ariel Turner, who is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year.
“Turner is just smart,” Carlston said. “She is maybe one of, if not the smartest kid in terms of her IQ and her ability to hit shots. She never hits the same shots twice; it’s tough to play against a kid that just really doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. She is an impressive player, she really knows the game and is really difficult to defend.”
Even though Purdue has lost two games in a row, Danks said her team needs to stay sharp.
“Yeah, we just can’t get complacent,” Danks said. “Purdue is always a very talented and scrappy team.”
OSU is looking forward to the challnege the 6-foot-1 Turner presents, Hole said.
“It’s always fun to play against big players, but every player is going to get their kills, you just try to minimize them as much as possible,” Hole said.
No matter what ranking or what record either team possesses, Carlston is expecting each team to be at its best this weekend.
“I’m expecting both of these teams to come in and be ready to play for different reasons,” Carlston said. “Indiana because they had a great weekend, showed that they can play at a high level.
“Then Purdue, because I think, you know, they realize that they got to play a little better, and I’m sure coach (Dave) Shondell is pushing them hard in practice. So I think we’re going to find two hungry teams, but I think our team is really hungry too.”
Eighteen games into the year, Carlston said that this team is continuing to get better.
“The best thing about our group right now is that we have a lot of room for improvement,” Carlston said. “We know that, and we had a great week of practice so far. We will be ready as well.”