Ashy Leads Ohio’s Defense From The Back

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Sometimes the smallest thing can make the biggest impact.

At least this is the case with Meredith Ashy. Ohio’s libero is the smallest player on the Bobcats’ roster at 5-foot-8, but she makes up for it with her impressive defensive play.

“It’s hard to even quantify her impact because it is so big,” Ohio volleyball coach Deane Webb says.

As the team’s primary defensive specialist, Ashy spends all of her matches in the back row. In addition to wearing a different color jersey from her teammates, there are many different rules that the junior has to follow.

“There’s a lot that people don’t know about the libero position,” Ashy says.

Ashy is permitted to go in and out of a set for any player in a back row position without needing to formally stop the match to make a substitution. The libero’s substitutions are made any time between plays and are not included in the team’s regular 15 substitutions per set.

Ashy is not only restricted to a specific region of the court, but also in her play. She is not permitted to use her hands to make a pass in front of the ten-foot line and can only serve in place of one front row player.

“She has several roles that are important,” Webb says. “We need her to serve-receive well. We need her to defend well. We need her to serve well.”

Ashy was second in the Mid-American Conference in digs during the 2014 regular season, averaging 4.82 per set. She has recorded 20 or more digs in ten matches this season, anchoring the MAC’s top-ranked defense in opponents’ hitting percentage and opponents’ kills.

Ashy’s 472 digs on the year is a team-high, but is something that is often overlooked by spectators.

“She is a big part of what we do,” Webb says. “Sometimes the libero gets overlooked just because of their size and because their not up swinging, hitting balls that the crowd goes nuts on, but she does a lot of little things that makes us better.”

Her continuous success results from her ability to read opposing hitters’ body language and then reacting to a hit within seconds of impact.

“Usually you can read tips and roll shots if you’ve played the game for awhile,” Ashy says. “You can definitely read when they’re going to try to tip the ball. If they’ve gone past the ball and their arm gets up, you know it’s not going to be a hard swing, so you creep in for the tip and charge the ball.”

On the flip side of a tip, is a fast, hard attack. While some players may stray away from a fast, hard-hit volleyball coming their way, Ashy strives for those opportunities to fuel her team as well as herself.

“I think what impresses me the most about her is her ability to receive balls with heat,” Webb says. “She can dig balls that come with a lot, a lot of pace.”

Ohio held opponents to a mere .152 hitting clip during the season. The Bobcat blockers and back line work cohesively on defense to keep the ball in play after an opponent’s attack.

“It’s usually the block and the back row, they have to communicate really well to figure out a system,” Ashy says.

In play, the blockers’ goal is to “funnel” a hit to the libero. This means that the blockers take away open paths for the hitter, only leaving an open hitting lane to the libero’s area of the court.

While the blockers do their best to force a hit to Ashy, opponents in the MAC have also adjusted. Ashy saw her digs-per-set average drop from 5.52 to 4.82 over the last four games of the regular season. When opponents hit away from Ashy, teammates Brooke Coleman, Mallory Salis and Kelly Lamberti are usually there to clean up.

Communication is also the key to the collective success of Ohio’s passers.

“I think communicating is one of the biggest things in the back row,” Coleman says. “Because you have to talk to your hitters, you have to talk to each other whether it’s in defense or serve-receive, and if you’re not talking you can run into each other or the ball drops a lot.”

Ashy is the fuel to Ohio’s defensive fire. She stood out during her freshman season as Ohio’s full-time libero, earning MAC All-Freshman and First Team All-MAC honors. Last year, as a sophomore, she was named the Mid-American Conference Tournament MVP after tallying 37 digs (6.17 per set) in Ohio’s semifinal- and final-round wins.

As Ohio prepares to defend its conference tournament title this season, the team has an advantage. Ohio earned the right to host the 2014 MAC Tournament after winning last year’s regular season title.

Ashy says she embraces the challenge of defending last season’s tournament title while also defending the back row of her home court.

“Getting a really good dig, that really pumps up the crowd and it pumps up me too,” Ashy says. “Once I get a good dig I’m like, OK I’m ready for more.”