Volleyball: Heavy hitters visit Ohio U.

By Matt Wagner

Despite the name of this weekend’s tournament, Ohio won’t be staying at any hotel or even leaving the city.

After two weekends away from Athens, the Bobcats will rest in their own beds for the Baymont Inn and Suites Invitational, where the team will play three matches at The Convocation Center Friday and Saturday.

“We’re looking forward to a home weekend,” coach Ryan Theis said. “We’re certainly excited that (yesterday was) Thursday and we don’t have to get back on the road.

“It was actually a weekend where we got to get some practice done.”

With three big-time programs coming to town, that extra bit of rest will help.

The tournament includes Pittsburgh (1-6), Tennessee (6-0) and Northwestern (4-1), which will bolster the Bobcats’ already difficult strength of schedule. Ohio’s match with Tennessee will mark the third time in this short season that the Bobcats have faced a 2009 NCAA tournament team.

The attraction of top squads to Athens shows the respect Ohio volleyball garners from around the nation, senior Meryl Bender said.

“It’s really exciting,” Bender said. “It’s good competition. It’s outside of the (Mid-American Conference), and it means a lot to us that other schools are willing to come here to play us and compete. We’ve worked hard in the past to get here.”

Ohio’s match with No. 14 Tennessee is the Bobcats’ marquee matchup of the weekend. The Volunteers have won all six matches in straight sets and won both their home tournament and tournament at Houston University last weekend.

They are led by outside hitter Nikki Fowler, who’s coming off two tournament MVP performances and earned the Southeastern Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week award. She averages 4.72 points per set with a .329 hitting percentage.

The Bobcats, however, take a “one match at a time” philosophy into the weekend and will worry about the tougher opponents as they come.

“We’re going to focus on each team this weekend because we don’t want to look past anyone,” setter Michelle Jantsch said. “We definitely have a game plan, and we’ll base it a little bit more off of scouting of when (the teams) come down this weekend.”

No matter the strength of the opponents, the Bobcats know playing at home gives them an advantage, especially after two straight weekends away.

“It’s a lot of fun to play in front of a home crowd,” Bender said. “It’s just a different atmosphere. You’re just super excited. You’re comfortable, you practice here and you have the support of the community.”

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