The Ohio State women’s volleyball team was in a similar location but in an entirely different setting.
Returning to the NCAA Tournament as the No. 9 seed for the second straight season — and the second time in eight months — the Buckeyes could actually enjoy home-court advantage gained by the national seeds in the field of 64 teams, after the spring. 48-team tournament held strictly in Omaha, Nebraska.
This time, after being beaten by Florida in the last regional semi-final tournament, the Buckeyes have made it their mission to finally be recognized among the nation’s elite teams and qualify for the national semi-finals. in two weeks at the Nationwide Arena.
In the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Howard, the Buckeyes quickly dealt with a badly overmatched team and looked confident and in control.
Ninth-seeded Ohio State defeated the Bison 3-0 (25-12, 25-7, 25-10) Friday night at the Covelli Center. The Buckeyes advanced to Saturday’s second round at 6 p.m. against Tennessee.
After a slow start that saw Howard take a 7-6 lead in the first set, Ohio State (27-5) got going offensively and eventually found their defense at the net. The Buckeyes had eight kills and four offensive errors from 24 swings in the first set, but improved dramatically in the second set with 12 kills and no errors from 21 swings.
Ohio State coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg said it was a good start for what she and the team hope will be a thorough tournament.
“I think it’s good for their confidence,” she said. “It’s brand new. It’s something I take for granted and nerves playing in their first NCAA Tournament game at Covelli. …I think the nerves show they care and I think tomorrow we’ll go out with a little different mindset, a little less nerves, and we’ll just see what we can do.
Center tackle Rylee Rader and outside hitter Jenaisya Moore led the Buckeyes with seven kills apiece, while hitting at least .500. Outside striker Emily Gonzales and opposing striker Emily Londot recorded five and four kills respectively. Setter Mac Podraza registered 24 assists. Ohio State had nine team blocks and forced Howard to commit 19 typing errors.
The timing of hosting their first NCAA tournament game hit the Buckeyes early. Podraza said she didn’t expect to feel nervous on the court at first, but libero Kylie Murr put everyone at ease in the first media timeout with the Buckeyes leading 15-9.
“I think at some point Kylie Murr looked at us and said ‘Take a deep breath. No, actually, stop what you’re doing and take a deep breath,'” Podraza said. change of mood and a weight that was lifted from us. We play really well when we play loose and free.”
Ohio State got the majority of its first points from Howard’s errors. In the first media timeout, the Buckeyes had no blocks, but quickly turned things around. Moore and Podraza led the Buckeyes with six assists apiece.
“We work a lot on our block and we’re proud of it,” Moore said. “I think just getting into that rhythm and trusting each other, just going for it.”
The Buckeyes will face Tennessee (20-9), who beat North Carolina 3-1 and should give the Buckeyes a better test with a chance to advance to the regional semifinals for a second consecutive season.
“It’s just a different team, a little more physical at the net,” Oldenburg said. “Our hitters are going to have to hit a few different shots than they did tonight. But it all comes back to the battle of serve and pass. If we take them out of the system, they will become more predictable, our defense will lock in a little more easily.