Ohio’s Slim Tournament Hopes Rest on Notre Dame Game

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After falling short of the MAC Tournament title in a five-set loss to Northern Illinois, the Ohio Bobcats (20-10, 14-3) women’s volleyball team looks forward to hosting Big East opponent Notre Dame (20-8, 13-2) Nov. 23, hoping to gain an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. The Bobcats look to extend their home winning-streak to 12 consecutive games while the Fighting Irish hope to notch a win after losing two in a row.

The Bobcats entered MAC Tournament play with the top seed but were upset by No. 4 seed Northern Illinois in a back-and-forth thriller. With at-large bids hard to come by, the Bobcats will have to defeat Notre Dame if they want any chance at making the big stage.

“Realistically I think were probably a bubble out team,” said Ohio head coach Ryan Theis. “If we can beat Notre Dame, who’s currently around 40 RPI, it would give us a top-fifty win and maybe put us closer in the conversation; but an at-large bid is a pretty slim chance at this point.”

The Bobcats enter their final match of the season ranked 62nd in RPI while the Fighting Irish sit at 36 RPI. The Rating Percentage Index (RPI) is a number used to rank a team based upon its wins and losses and strength of schedule. Earlier this year, the Irish beat the No. 10 ranked Louisville Cardinals making them 1-4 against ranked opponents while the Bobcats sit at 0-4 against ranked foes.

The ‘Cats are a young team and must continue to rally behind the play of sophomore hitters Kelly Lamberti and Chelsea Bilger. Lamberti, who was named MAC Player of the Year on Nov. 15, leads the team with 423 kills and is second in digs with 362. Bilger earned First Team All-MAC honors this season with 322 kills, good for second on the team.

Freshman roommates Meredith Ashy and Abby Gilleland will be looked upon to help the Bobcats top the Irish. Ashy, the libero, leads the team with 499 digs and was the only freshman to make the All-MAC First Team. Gilleland earned All-MAC Freshman Team honors with 924 assists as Ohio’s primary setter.

The Fighting Irish entered Big East tournament play as the No. 3 seed, however their tournament dreams were halted as they fell in the quarterfinals to No. 6 seed USF (17-14, 7-8) in four sets.

The Irish offense is centered around sophomore hitters Toni Alugbue and Jeni Houser.

Alugbue leads the team with 372 kills while Houser is second on the squad with 347 kills. The Bobcats must force difficult first ball passes to keep the ball out of the fingertips of junior setter Maggie Brindock, who leads the team with 1024 assists.

Although the Bobcats may fall short of an NCAA Tournament bid with a win, it is in their best interest to finish the season on a positive note and give the Mid-American Conference much-needed respect, knowing that it can compete with top-notch conferences such as the Big East. 

“I’ve been realistic with the team and they know that [there’s a slim chance at an at-large bid],” said Theis. “Were going to play this match with every bit of effort in terms of if we want a chance to go the NCAA tournament. We have to win it and we’ll give Notre Dame everything we’ve got.”

First serve is set for Friday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center.