Dec. 9, 2016
MADISON, Wis. — The Ohio State University women’s volleyball program, playing in its third straight NCAA Regional Semifinals, scrapped with third-seeded Wisconsin throughout a five-set affair. The Badgers (28-4) narrowly escaped in front of their home crowd by the slimmest of margins (25-15, 22-25, 29-31, 25-22, 15-13) in an instant classic.
The Buckeyes wrap up the 2016 campaign with an overall record of 22-13 and a pair of seniors leaving as school record holders. Not only did Valeria León and Taylor Sandbothe set all-time marks in career digs and blocks, respectively, but they’ve both distanced themselves considerably from second best in OSU lore. León finished with 1,795 digs, 223 more than 2004 National Player of the Year and next closest, Stacey Gordon (1,572 digs; 2001-04). Meanwhile, Sandbothe’s 564 total blocks clear the field and second-place Dawn McDougall (517; 1988-91) by 47 rejections.
Three Buckeyes notched double-doubles in Madison, all taking different routes to get there. Luisa Schirmer took the most common road with 19 kills and 18 digs while Taylor Hughes posted 45 assists and 11 kills, and Sandbothe racked up 10 blocks to go along with her 13 kills.
SET 1: Abby Fesl and Sandbothe hooked up on the opening rally for a Buckeye termination and 1-0 edge. Wisconsin would then grab the next half dozen points and ride the wave of a raucous home crowd to the 25-15 winner.
SET 2: Ohio State rebooted quickly and raced out to a 6-2 advantage in the second stanza, putting a halt to the Badger momentum. Hughes took control early and often, chipping in on 14 of the team’s 15 kills. She set up nine assists and drilled five kills on eight errorless swings. Wisconsin put a scare into the Buckeyes late in the frame, closing the gap to 23-22 on three straight points after trailing 23-19. Appold put an end to that, however, blistering a León set to give Ohio State a set-point opportunity at 24-22. A Badger attack error followed, knotting the contest at one set apiece entering intermission.
— NCAA Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) December 9, 2016
SET 3: No lack of entertainment existed in the third, ultimately leading to an extended 31-29 final ledger in favor of the Scarlet & Gray. Wisconsin’s Molly Haggerty put forth 10 kills, offset by Schirmer and Sandbothe combining for 12 kills at a.353 attacking rate. Both offenses had it going on for most of the set, but five Buckeye blocks slowed down the opposition just enough. Sandbothe, Madison Smeathers and Ashley Wenz each got in on a pair of block assists.
Tied up at 9-9, the Buckeyes rattled off five in a row only to be countered by a seven-point run for Wisconsin. Ohio State responded to re-even the score moments later at 20-20. The match would remain `all-square’ at 21-all through 29-all as both sides shielded potential set-winning points. Hughes finally put an end to the madness, winning a joust at the net and yanking the Buckeyes ahead two-sets-to-one on a 31-29 triumph. A couple of absolute rockets from Schirmer’s right arm accounted for Ohio State’s 28th and 29th points.
SET 4: Ohio State methodically built a 19-14 lead in the fourth before an 11-3 spurt for the Badgers closed out a 25-22 come-from-behind winner and forcing a decisive fifth frame.
SET 5: The Buckeyes made a comeback of their own in the fifth, storming back from a 6-3 deficit to pull even at 7-7. Senior libero León left it all out on the floor in her career finale, digging up a set-high five balls. She delivered an ace as well, clawing her squad to within a lone tally at 10-9. The Buckeyes flashed their resiliency on more time by day’s end, meeting a 13-10 hole with back-to-back kills to force a Wisconsin timeout. A kill by Hughes would later spoil the Badgers’ first match-point, but a Haleigh Nelson kill came next to close the door 15-13.
Women’s volleyball season is not quite over for the city of Columbus, however, as Ohio State and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission are teaming up to host the 2016 NCAA Championships (Dec. 15-17) at Nationwide Arena.