The Ohio State women’s volleyball team (9-4, 2-0 Big Ten) has started the conference season well, but the Buckeyes are just getting started with Big Ten play as they hit the road this weekend to face No. 23 Michigan Friday and No. 16 Michigan State Saturday.
The Buckeyes swept Maryland (3-0) last week at home before upsetting No. 13 Purdue (3-1) on the road Saturday.
Ohio State head coach Geoff Carlston was impressed with the Buckeyes’ execution against a tough Boilermakers team on the road.
“I thought we played really well in a very tough environment,” Carlston said. “They’re a really good team, so I was really proud of our group. I thought our defensive energy was really where it needed to be.”
Throughout most of the preseason, Carlston worked with the team to strengthen its defensive line and its hard work has seemingly paid off. The Terrapins registered a .099 hitting percentage in their loss to Ohio State and the Boilermakers recorded a .212 hitting percentage against the Buckeyes.
Middle blocker Madison Smeathers said she was equally pleased with the game against Purdue. She had a career-high 16 kills on 31 attempts, with only three errors on a .419 hitting percentage.
“We had a great game plan that we practiced all week, and I think we just followed through with it really well,” Smeathers said. “We played with our heart, not just our bodies.”
The team plans on playing no differently than how it has been and intends to extend its four-game win streak and follow up its first two conference wins with a victory against Michigan. Ohio State holds a 50-24 all-time record versus the Wolverines since 1974.
The Buckeyes have a tighter all-time record with the Spartans (46-31), splitting their home-and-home series last season with a 3-0 sweep for each team.
“Those two teams are very good at home,” Carlston said. “Michigan State has had a great weekend and Michigan is a very good team. They’re both going to serve the ball really well, they don’t make a lot of mistakes so we can’t give them easy points.”
The Buckeyes will have to work hard this weekend as Michigan State won its first two Big Ten matches and went 9-2 during the nonconference portion of the season. Although Michigan lost its first two Big Ten matches, it went 9-4 in its nonconference schedule.
“The coaches are making a game plan and we’re going over it every day, trying to focus on Michigan before Michigan State, taking it one game at a time,” Smeathers said.
The Buckeyes have had a pair of recent setbacks as they have dealt with injuries to juniors outside hitter Audra Appold and middle blocker Jasmine Koonts.
“We’re going to have a lineup we’ve never played before because of injuries, so we’re just trying to find a rhythm with that a little bit,” Carlston said.“It’s given some of our young players a much more prominent role than maybe they were expecting and [they] have risen to the occasion.”
Smeathers said the team has missed Appold and Koonts in the last couple games, but that has not stopped the Buckeyes from playing a few of their best games this season.
“Battling injuries and things is definitely hard, but I think we’re trying to figure out who we are,” Smeathers said. “We’re coming together really well and playing for each other despite all these things.”
In advance of the weekend matchups, Carlston said he has spent time scouting his opponents to gain an idea of what his team is up against. He said the two teams are very experienced and strong, and the Buckeyes will have to remain steady this weekend.
“We have to continue to work on our serving, that needs to be one of our strengths,” Carlston said. “I think both of those teams are two of the better serving teams in the conference, so I think the serving game is going to be crucial, tactically and just putting pressure on each other.”
Carlston believes both teams will make great plays and Ohio State will have to let those go and focus on the next point, working just as hard as it has been.
“Our team also enjoys being on the road, so we’re going to have to lock arms and go into a pretty hostile environment again like we did last weekend,” Carlston said.