For Ohio State, this week has different levels of significance depending on whom is asked, but for all of the Buckeyes, it represents one more shot at bolstering their resume for the NCAA tournament.
In its final weekend at home, Ohio State (14-14, 7-9 Big Ten) will take on Northwestern (11-17, 4-8) Friday and Illinois (13-12, 8-8) Sunday.
“On top of that, it’s my last home weekend ever,” senior middle hitter Elle Sandbothe said. “I am feeling excited and wanting to leave Covelli with a bang, but taking advantage of these opportunities that we’re having and to live in the moment like it is our last.”
Both games are important opportunities for Buckeye wins with just four games left. If it wins just two more games, Ohio State will maintain its .500 record and qualify for the postseason tournament.
Sandbothe said home court provides an advantage.
“We’re kind of using the energy that playing at home brings to be ourselves out there and play our best game and play at a really high level,” Sandbothe said. “We want to take in that atmosphere and be present in that.”
Maintenance is a major strategy for the Buckeyes this week. Being that it is late in the season, freshman defensive specialist Kylie Murr said the team is working more on its mental game rather than tweaking technique or improving technical skills.
“Right now, it’s not really what we can do better. It’s maintaining what we’ve learned and staying consistent because we only have four games left,” Murr said. “I think this week in practice, it’s just going to be about staying consistent and playing with our heart and leaving everything out there on the court.”
Murr said her goal for the rest of the season is to improve her coverage and maintain her spot at first in the Big Ten for digs, while Sandbothe said her goal is to improve her efforts on offensive and defensive sides; she specifically has the desire to have more of a presence on the block.
“I’ve been trying to be a big presence out there on the block,” Sandbothe said. “So just continuing to shut down some outsides and get some touches, our defense can dig around because our defense is phenomenal.”
Ohio State will face a varied threat this weekend. Northwestern ranks below the Buckeyes in the Big Ten with losses to Maryland and Rutgers, both of which the Buckeyes have beaten. The Wildcats fall near the bottom in just about every statistic and should not pose a major threat to Ohio State.
Meanwhile, Illinois — already with a win against the Buckeyes in 2019 — will pose more of a threat to Ohio State’s goal of coming out with a 2-0 home weekend. Illinois is ranked third in the Big Ten in service aces, and senior outside hitter Jacqueline Quade currently leads the Big Ten in hitting efficiency.
“Every team in the Big Ten is good, and you can’t take any of them lightly,” Sandbothe said. “We will be focusing on our side of the net, especially because if we can maintain our game and stay clear and consistent in our game, then we can beat anyone we play against.”
After working all season on individual skills, Murr said team chemistry and passion will be the deciding factors in this crunch time of the season.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with our skill at this point. I think it will be about who plays the hardest and who wants it the best,” Murr said. “I think wanting it and leaving it all out on the court is what’s going to win these games.”
Ohio State will face Northwestern at 7 p.m. Friday and Illinois at 1 p.m. Sunday. Both matches will take place in the Covelli Center.