No team has dominated the Mid-American Conference like Ohio Volleyball over the past decade with a 265- 69 overall record and 143-19 mark in league play. However, Head Coach Ryan Theis begins his fifth season in Athens thinking about what is to come. He and his team hope a ninth NCAA Tournament trip in 10 seasons is what lies ahead.
Ohio returns nine letterwinners from last season's squad, including All-MAC First Team selection Kelly Lamberti, second-team choice Lexie Hartnett and All-Freshman honoree Chelsea Bilger. That trio, combined with returning starter Faith Robins, two defensive specialists that played every game in 2011, Mollie Geske and Kelly Colyar, and upperclassman Leah Petrovich make the Bobcats a formidable opponent. Ohio also added six newcomers for this upcoming season, including two transfers.
Sophomores Lamberti and Bilger spent their offseason with a United State Developmental team in China and hope the experience will pay dividends for them. Lamberti finished her first season, second in the league in point scoring behind MAC Player of the Year Lauren Wicinski. The freshman also ranked second in kills, fifth in service aces and led Ohio in double-doubles with 19. Bilger finished second on the Bobcats in kills and third in points. She racked up 12 double-doubles on the season, eight in conference action.
Hartnett received All-MAC honors for a second time last season after helping Ohio rank 19th in the nation in blocks per set. The redshirt sophomore ranked third in the MAC in blocks per set and placed second with 117.0 total blocks. Ohio finished their season ranked 22nd nationally with an average of 2.67 bocks per set and also boasted the best defense in the league, holding opponents to an average hitting percentage of .168. The height of Hartnett, Faith Robins (top-5 blocker in the MAC) and Leah Petrovich along the front line impeded many opponent attacks.
Petrovich also serves as a valuable setter for the ‘Cats after finishing second on the team last season. She notched her first double-double with career-highs in assists (32) and digs (14) in a win over Villanova at the Lady Vol Classic. Kelly Colyar and Mollie Geske interchange with one another on the back line for the Bobcats as both played in every match during 2011. Geske finished eighth in the MAC in digs with 465, tops among the Bobcats and had 10+ digs in 27 matches. Colyar had digs in all but three matches including a career-high 18 at the Lady Vol Classic.
Two players who have used the summer to develop into formidable options for the Bobcat attack are Liis Kullerkann and Serena Warner. Kullerkann, a 6-3 native of Estonia and Warner, a dual-sport athlete (track and field) from Houston, have both had experience on the outside and in the middle.
The quartet of freshmen features Karin Bull, a 6-2 middle, Abby Gilleland, a 5-10 setter, and two defensive specialists/liberos in Meredith Ashy and Carley Jones.
Bull was named All-Metro after earning All-Conference honors at Bloomington Kennedy in Minnesota. Over her three years, Bull accumulated over 500 kills, almost 300 blocks and over 350 digs while maintaining a hitting percentage of .370. She was also named as one of PrepVolleyball's Next 100. Gilleland was All-Conference and Academic All-Conference the last two seasons at Marian Central Catholic. She was named all-area by the Northwest Herald, Chicago Sun Times and Daily Gazette and was on PrepVolleyball’s Top 100 list.
Ashy was an All-Region, All-Catholic and All-District Tournament team selection during her senior season, helping Sacred Heart Academy in Kentucky to two regional and state runner-up spots. Jones had 488 digs last season at Notre Dame Academy, also in Kentucky, to set the single-season mark, and graduated with 1,049 career digs, another ND record. She was also a two-time all-state selection and three-year regional all-tournament selection.
Ohio also added two transfers in Kellie Turner, an outside hitter from Salt Lake City Community College and Hannah Burkle, a middle/outside hitter from Eastern Kentucky. Burkle was named to the OVC All-Newcomer Team after finishing second on the team with 351 kills and leading the Colonels with 105 blocks. She finished the season ranked eighth in the OVC with an average of 0.87 blocks and 10th with 3.50 points per set. During her two years at SLCC, Turner started 200 games, had 459 kills and ranked fourth in career aces. She also garnered second team All-Region and All-Tournament team honors.
The Bobcats’ non-conference schedule is highlighted by two home tournaments and contests with four top-25 opponents including 2011 National Runner-up, No. 7 Illinois. Ohio’s history of tough scheduling continues with contests against No. 11 Pepperdine, Atlantic-10 favorite Dayton, and ACC standouts North Carolina, and North Carolina State away from Athens and matches with No. 13 Kentucky, No. 20 Oregon and Notre Dame in the Convocation Center.