LEXINGTON, Ky. — The No. 18 Ohio State Buckeyes found themselves playing the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament Saturday, not only as the lower-ranked team, but playing on the Wildcats homecourt.
But they ended up pulling off another upset win, with the help of a new face in the line-up as OSU upset the Wildcats in four sets (23-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-19).
Around the start of the second set, coach Geoff Carlston inserted junior outside hitter Katie Mitchell, who didn’t appear in the first match against Lipscomb. Mitchell finished the match with nine kills as she sparked OSU off the bench.
“Coming off the bench as a player, we need to give a different look and change our things and not do the same things that our team has been doing,” Mitchell said. “So coming in, making a change and making a difference throughout the whole match, I am pretty sure they never scouted my hitting so that was a little helpful. Being able to adapt and make a difference.”
While dealing with injuries throughout the season, Carlston said he knew that he could rely on his depth.
“She came off the bench and helped us win (the) match,” Carlston said. “And that’s really the kind of team we’ve been all year. We’ve won so many different ways, and I couldn’t be any prouder as a coach with the selflessness of this group.”
Senior outside hitter Erin Sekinger and junior outside hitter Elizabeth Campbell each had a game-high of 16 kills. Campbell also had 13 digs. Senior setter Taylor Sherwin assisted on 50 attacks, which was a game-high, and had 12 digs. Sophomore libero Valeria León made a difference on the defensive side with a team-high 14 digs for OSU, along with seven assists.
The Buckeyes were able to execute an altered game plan later in the match.
“What we weren’t doing early on was, we were trying to blast through that huge block cross-court and bruising our toes,” Carlston said. “And so the game plan was to work the line and try to stay away from libero because she’s exceptional. So what we started doing at the end was Katie Mitchell (doing) a great job of challenging the line and that was a big difference ‘cause we knew that they get energized by their blocking and we were doing a nice job energizing them the first set.”
And while the Buckeyes move on, the Wildcats do not. Senior outside hitter Lauren O’Conner and senior libero Jackie Napper couldn’t hold back their emotions after the game.
“I mean, that’s it for us,” O’Conner said. “We put our heart and soul into it for four years and for it to be gone like that, it’s just tough.”
O’Conner, Napper and setter Alyssa Gergins were the lone seniors for the Wildcats.
While the Buckeyes can enjoy the win, they’ll have to get back to planning against a team that’s beaten them twice this season in No. 2 Wisconsin. The Buckeyes and the Badgers are set to play Friday.
“Our conference prepares us,” Carlston said. “We played eight of our last 10 matches against top-20, top-25 teams, and so if nothing else than playing in the Big Ten gets you ready for who you’re going to see, even Wisconsin now. Typically if you make it to the Sweet Sixteen, you’re gonna end up playing someone from our conference, or someone who’s really good. Day in, day out, in our conference, you just become more prepared, I think.
“If you make it through and survive (the Big Ten), you are ready.”
Despite OSU being 0-2 against Wisconsin on the season, and having been swept in both matches, Mitchell said she is confident that the Badgers will see a different team on Friday.
“When you play in the Big Ten, you’re playing against some of the best teams in the country,” Mitchell said. “And (the coaches) have prepared us well against the Wisconsin, Penn State and Illinois, for the tournament. But we’re definitely going to give them a different look.”
The Buckeyes and Badgers will play at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville on Friday. The match’s start time has not yet been announced.