After being on the road for the last two weeks, the Ohio State women’s volleyball team (14-13, 7-9 Big Ten) will return to St. John Arena to host No. 5 Nebraska (22-4, 15-1 Big Ten) at 6 p.m. Friday and Iowa (17-12, 6-10) at 8 p.m. Saturday.
With Nebraska currently riding nine-match winning streak, the Buckeyes have a tough match on their hands. Nebraska has only lost one Big Ten match to No. 12 Wisconsin.
Ohio State head coach Geoff Carlston recognizes that Nebraska is one of the best serving teams in the conference and admits the Buckeyes have struggled in that area with this season.
“We’ve done well against them, but they’re playing really well right now,” Carlston said. “We have to battle in the serve-and-pass game, so if we can do what I know we can do serving-wise then it gives us a little bit more advantage.”
This will be the first meeting between Ohio State and Nebraska this season. The Buckeyes have beat the Huskers in three of their last four matches. However, Ohio State has only beat Nebraska once at home since both teams started playing in 1978. The Cornhuskers hold a 11-7 record against the Buckeyes in the all-time series.
Though the Buckeyes have won 62 of 73 games against Iowa, they couldn’t pull out a win last week when they lost 3-1 to the Hawkeyes. The game ended Ohio State’s 15-match win streak against Iowa. The Hawkeyes have one of the top defensive specialists in the conference, senior Annika Olsen, who leads the Big Ten with 4.89 digs per set.
The Buckeyes have struggled to maintain their momentum this season. Mauer admitted that while they did not always have a consistent flow, they have been able to adapt to the changes on their own team as well as on the other side of the net.
“We don’t give up,” Mauer said. “I think we’re one of those teams that don’t let a ball drop and I think we’re just very scrappy and we make the other team work for it.”
Carlston said he believes his team can be a little more disciplined in its plays and how it handles the ball.
“[We need to] make [Nebraska and Iowa] earn every single point, like get in there and roll up our sleeves, blue collar defense and relentless pursuit of the ball,” Carlston said. “When we get a block we need to take advantage of that and run our offense behind it.”
Mauer has recently had to step up as the starting setter of the team with junior setter Taylor Hughes sidelined with a season-ending injury Hughes.
Carlston did not provide specifics regarding the injury, but said Hughes has been trying to work through it while mentoring Mauer and being another set of eyes for the team.
“She’s our emotional leader. She’s our quarterback. But she’s also mentored Becca very well,” Carlston said. “Becca, as has happened a lot with us this year, she steps up and she’s doing a great job.”
Though the multitude of injuries to the team has depleted Carlston of several starters, the absences have provided the freshmen on the team with an opportunity to start at an early age.
“It’s kind of fun because we’re getting better every single day,” Carlston said. “It’s almost like a whole new season with our group because it’s just so different than maybe we were in August, September, even October.”
Although the team has had to work through injuries and adjustments, Carlston is confident the team can fight through these next two games and make it to the final tournament.
“We’re trying to keep that in mind, that we control our own destiny,” Carlston said. “But we know we have to play and we have to … fall in love with the process again which is hard to do here late in the season.”