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Calvin Mattheis | Ohio Athletics

Ohio Volleyball Begins Season With Tough Bobcat Invitational

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The defending Mid-American Conference tournament champions are back. The Ohio volleyball team begins its quest for an eleventh trip to the NCAA Tournament on Friday in the Bobcat Invitational.

However this year’s squad looks significantly different from the teams in previous years. Setter Abby Gilleland, libero Meredith Ashy, middle blocker Karin Bull, outside hitter Shelby “Sky” Walker and defensive specialist and setter Aubree Hord all have graduated. In their place are seven true or redshirt freshman. The most notable of the bunch is perhaps setter Katelyn Burke.

Burke, a 5’9’’ true freshman from Oswego, Ill. was a four-year letter winner and a two-time captain in high school. During her time in high school she had over 1,300 assists nearly 400 kills and 600 digs. Production like that, earned her the start on Friday.

“We have a couple of setters and an on going competition there,” head coach Dean Webb said. “Katelyn is who we believe will be our starter this weekend.”

Despite being a very young team, Ohio does bring back some experience in junior outside hitter Jaime Kosiorek (351 kills last year) and two senior captains, outside hitter Mallory Salis (325 digs last year) and libero Brooke Coleman (79 digs last year). Katie Nelson (117 kills last year) Ali Lake (192 kills last year), Erica Walker (270 digs last year) saw significant time last year and return for the Bobcats.

Despite being young the expectations have not changed for Ohio.

“Oh yeah always,” Coleman said on if it is still championship or bust. “We’re looking to win still and go to the NCAA tournament. That’s our reputation here at Ohio and we’re willing to keep it”

The Green and White open the season on Friday at home against No. 22 Western Kentucky. This is Ohio’s first game in its annual Bobcat Invitational. Florida Gulf Coast and Villanova will also take part in the invitational. Both teams play the Bobcats on Saturday.

However Ohio could be without captain Salis. Webb said she had an “undisclosed injury” and he could not provide an update for her availability on Friday.

The Bobcats have a very difficult schedule this year. They open with ranked Western Kentucky, have trips to Norman, Oklahoma to face the Sooners and to Blacksburg, Virginia to face the Virginia Tech Hokies. They also have a home-and-home with Miami (OH) and Kent State.

“I believe you get better playing really good teams and faster playing really good teams,” Webb said. “Yes it’s challenging, yes there are some extra nerves when they come out and see how many people come to our games it can be overwhelming. It can be a fun thing too.”

Ohio was picked to finish third in the Eastern Division of the preseason coach’s poll. But that doesn’t bother coach Webb.

“It’s not surprising where everyone voted us. It’s not an insult,” Webb said. “I think for our returners, they’re used to a high level of success. It is an extra level of motivation for them. I don’t take it as an insult but it is motivation and something we sure hope to be much higher than that when it’s all over.”

The Miami Redhawks were picked to win both the eastern division and the regular season crown in the poll. They received nine first place votes. Kent State, Northern Illinois and Ohio all received one first-place vote. The Redhawks received five votes to win the MAC tournament. Northern Illinois got four, Kent State received two and Western Michigan got one. Kosiorek made the preseason All-MAC East team.

“I don’t really pay attention to those [preseason predictions] because honestly that’s not normally what ends up happening,” Coleman said. “I think being the underdog is a blessing in disguise for us because people may not take us as seriously so our young energy will drive us.”