Coming off its first conference win against then-No. 16 Wisconsin, the Ohio State women’s volleyball team is scheduled to host two more Big Ten foes in St. John Arena this weekend.
No. 13 OSU (12-2, 1-1) will play Iowa (10-5, 0-2) at 7 p.m. on Friday before playing its only game of the season against No. 4 Nebraska (11-1, 2-0) at the same time the following day.
While a key match with a top-five team looms, OSU is trying to stay focused on Iowa for now.
“I won’t even watch Nebraska until Friday night,” coach Geoff Carlston said. “We don’t talk about Nebraska. It’s pretty much a swear word in our gym right now.”
Senior outside hitter Katie Mitchell emphasized that OSU can’t afford to overlook Iowa, citing the Hawkeyes’ upset win over Purdue last season.
“Iowa is always a game that we really need to stay focused on,” Mitchell said. “They’re one of those dark-horse teams.”
Iowa is coming off a pair of losses against Nebraska but went 10-3 in nonconference play, picking up impressive wins against then-No. 25 Texas A&M and Iowa State. The Hawkeyes aren’t currently ranked in the coaches’ poll, but they have been receiving votes consistently.
“They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder like we are,” Carlston said. “And they’ve had a couple big wins, so they believe. It’s a great combination for a program that’s making a mark nationally now.”
On Saturday, OSU will finally turn its attention to the Cornhuskers, whose only loss this season was to No. 3 Texas on Sept. 4.
“Nebraska’s a team that we know they have some of the best players in the country, and it’s going to be an absolute battle,” Mitchell said.
The Cornhuskers had a pair of outside hitters named to the preseason all-Big Ten squad in senior Kelsey Fien and junior Kadie Rolfzen. They also boast one of the best passers in the conference in sophomore setter Kelly Hunter, who averages 11.45 assists per set, the second-best rate in the Big Ten.
Senior middle blocker Tyler Richardson said she’s excited about playing a top-five team on OSU’s home floor.
“With us beating Wisconsin this past weekend, we just keep pushing for more,” she said. “We’re ready for more.”
OSU currently ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 42nd nationally with 2.53 blocks per set. In the Buckeyes’ win over Wisconsin on Sunday, they registered a season-high 15 blocks, which helped to slow down a potent Badgers offense.
“Having a physical presence on the net does make the hitters worry about not only where your diggers are, but also the block — not just as an area to hit around but an area that we’re going to stop you from even getting a chance to score,” Mitchell said.
Despite its success in the blocking game, both Mitchell and Carlston said they feel that OSU can improve.
“Wisconsin’s a very strong offensive program, and so to get that many blocks against an offensive unit like that says a lot about our growth,” Carlston said. “(But) our left-side blocking needs to get better … and we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on that this week.”
Last season, OSU only played Nebraska once and was able to pull off an upset in Lincoln, Nebraska, in five sets. The Buckeyes played Iowa twice, sweeping the Hawkeyes both times.
Richardson said last year’s success against the two teams helps OSU’s confidence, but her team still needs to prepare as it normally would.
“Knowing that we’ve done it in the past means we can definitely do it in the future, but I think we’re preparing for them like how we’re taking any other team in the Big Ten,” she said.
OSU has traditionally dominated Iowa, owning a 59-9 all-time record against the Hawkeyes. But things haven’t been so easy against Nebraska, as the Buckeyes are just 5-10 all-time.
The Buckeyes are set to head to Illinois for a pair of away games next weekend, facing off against Northwestern on Oct. 9 and No. 7 Illinois on Oct. 10.