After losing back-to-back home losses, Ohio State will attempt to bounce back with two home matches against McKendree.
The Bearcats (6-7, 3-3 MIVA) enter into the match with the same ledger in their last two matches as the Buckeyes (5-11, 1-5 MIVA): two home court losses at the hands of Loyola Chicago and Lewis. While McKendree has three conference wins against Lindenwood, Quincy and then-No. 11 Ball State, Ohio State has a single league win against Quincy.
Despite McKendree’s superior conference standing, Ohio State head coach Pete Hanson said that he’s looking forward to this weekend in large part because sophomore outside hitter Jake Hanes is expected to return to the floor.
“That’ll give us a little more offense,” Hanson said. “We can run our offense through Blake [Leeson], through Jake and [sophomore outside hitter Martin Lallemand] some, so we feel like we’ve got enough offense with those three guys.”
Prior to his injury, Hanes led the country with 115 kills. Since Hanes’ injury in the Jan. 26 match against Ball State, the Buckeyes have mostly struggled offensively, hitting above .250 just twice in the Feb. 1 victory over Lincoln Memorial and the Feb. 16 win over Quincy.
Hanson said Hanes’ return means redshirt sophomore outside hitter Tyler Alter would step back into an outside hitter role and out of the opposite hitter role he served during Hanes’ absence. Alter accrued 41 kills, two aces, 25 digs and eight blocks in Hanes’ absence.
When Hanes returns to the floor on Friday night, he won’t only be contributing on offense.
Senior libero Aaron Samarin said Hanes’ return will also bolster the defense as well.
“It’s great to have that big guy on the back,” Samarin said. “He’s a big guy, takes up a lot of court when he’s blocking. He can get out to the pin. With a quick offense that’s coming in, it’s nice to have that guy that can get out to the pin quick.”
The Bearcats bring in some offensive firepower of their own. Freshman outside hitter Patrick Ross and junior opposite hitter Zach Schnittker lead the team with nearly identical numbers, contributing 109 kills and 11 aces, and 104 kills and 12 aces, respectively.
McKendree also has a stout defense, leading the league with 2.5 blocks per set, which is fourth-best in the country. The only team Ohio State has faced with a better mark is Lewis, who slammed home 14 blocks en-route to a five-set victory against the Buckeyes in St. John Arena on Feb. 21.
Despite a difficult week of lineup changes, Hanson said the bottom line for a successful weekend is focus.
“We just have to take care of our business,” Hanson said. “We have to worry about what Ohio State does and less about what McKendree does.”
Ohio State takes on McKendree at 7 p.m. on Friday and 2 p.m. on Sunday at St. John Arena.