Unbeaten Buckeyes storm Sports Pavilion for showdown

Brian Stensaas

Heading into the 2000 volleyball campaign, the outlook for Ohio State’s program was mediocre at best.
After a 17-12 showing (10-10 Big Ten) in 1999 the thought of the Buckeyes atop the conference standings heading into the fourth weekend seemed about as likely as a fluffy snowfall in July.
And yet the Big Ten season is a month old and Ohio State sits above the rest in the conference. Even more, the Buckeyes have yet to lose this season, with a perfect 16-0 record thus far.
They put everything on the line Friday night at the Sports Pavilion as No. 8 Minnesota entertains the 11th-ranked Buckeyes.
Gophers coach Mike Hebert, who picked Ohio State to finish third this season behind Penn State and his team, said he is not surprised by the powerful start.
“They can do whatever they want on offense and make it stressful for the other team on defense,” he said. “They have everything available to them.”
Having that availability has allowed Ohio State’s Katie Virtue to run a mixed offensive attack.
The sophomore setter has the luxury to use every inch of the court. The Buckeyes don’t bring one main player night in and night out, so every player must be watched equally.
“They’re very solid in every phase,” Hebert said. “Virtue has galvanized their offense. They have the flexibility and skill to switch to the vulnerable area of the court.”
The newfound flexibility is bolstered by a smaller starting lineup than the Buckeyes have used in past years.
Buckeyes coach Jim Stone brought two teams to the final four in the early 1990s using the smaller, quicker roster he’s gone back to this season. So far, it has worked.
Ohio State has defeated three teams ranked in the top 25 (No. 10 Wisconsin, No. 17 Michigan State and No. 20 Michigan) and has five players averaging 3.16 kills or better per game.
“That’s his real style,” Hebert said of Stone’s team. “Ohio State has been taller, less mobile in recent years and now he’s got a team more conducive to him as a coach.”
For the Gophers to put an end to Ohio State’s streak, they will have to use their size.
Wednesday night against Iowa, Minnesota was able to accumulate 17 total team blocks, a season high. With Stephanie Hagen and Charnette Fair leading the way, net play will be vital Friday night.

On the air
Friday’s match with the Buckeyes will air on both television and radio.
MSC will carry the match live starting at 7:00 p.m. while WDGY AM 630 will carry a live radio broadcast starting at 6:45. Former Gophers player Sarah Pearman will handle color commentary on MSC and fellow volleyball alumnus Linda Shudlick will do color for WDGY.

Brian Stensaas covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]