No. 24 Ohio Enters MAC Tournament Looking To Improve

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While most teams are hoping to already be at their best come postseason time, Ohio volleyball coach Deane Webb is still focused on improving his team even with the Mid-American Conference tournament right around the corner.

“The last thing I told the young ladies before we left the team (last weekend), I said ‘before Monday you write on the board what you need to improve on this week’. And we’ll train that this week,” Webb said Monday in a press conference.

The Bobcats, who finished 16-0 in MAC play this season, will host the MAC tournament in Athens this weekend as result of winning the conference regular season title in 2013. No. 1 seed Ohio received a bye through the first two rounds and will play its first match Sunday in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. at the Convocation Center. The Bobcats will face either Ball State or the winner of the opening-round match between Buffalo and Western Michigan.

With the postseason comes a higher level of play and pressure, something that does not intimidate Webb.

“In my mind, the postseason is the most enjoyable time because it’s when all the matches mean more,” he said. “And I think what we found from this team this year is the more the match means, the better our team plays and not every team can say that.”

The Bobcats are currently riding a 17-game win streak and recently earned the No. 24 ranking in the AVCA Coaches Poll. Though Ohio finished MAC play without a loss, junior setter Abby Gilleland and the ‘Cats are aware that it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season.

“That quote is out there and they do say that, but I think with our team, both with our strengths defensively and offensively, it works to our benefit that if our defense isn’t having a great game our offensive knows how to step up and vice versa,” Gilleland said.

Coming into the tournament, Ohio leads the MAC in hitting percentage, opponent hitting percentage, kills and service aces. The ‘Cats were chosen as the pre-season tournament champions, making them the ones to beat in the eyes of the seven other teams traveling to Athens in hopes of winning the championship.

“I don’t think it’s in the back of our minds, but I think we understand that we do have a target on our back,” Gilleland said. “And anyone can come in and challenge us and make us do our best and we have to bring our best.”

On Ohio’s side of the bracket are No. 8 Buffalo, No. 5 Western Michigan and No. 4 Ball State. The Bobcats swept Buffalo in their two meetings. Ohio only faced Western Michigan and Ball State once in the regular season and won in tough matches with both opponents, 3-1. If the Bobcats do win their opening match and advance to the conference final, they will face the victor out of No. 7 Kent State, No. 6 Eastern Michigan, No. 3 Miami and No. 2 Northern Illinois.

Besides being atop the MAC in almost every statistical category, the Bobcats will have an additional edge over their opponents as they hold a home-court advantage.

“I’m glad I coach here. I’m glad that we have this home court advantage because it’s real,” Webb said. “I think the comfort of home and how much our girls love playing in front of our fans is more than enough to offset any distractions that might come with that.”