No. 9 Ohio State women’s volleyball opens NCAA tournament at home asking ‘why not us?’

Jacob Myers
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State libero Kylie Murr said the Buckeyes "want to show everyone what we're made of." The Buckeyes are 25-5 and the No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Following a 3-1 loss at home to then-No. 11 Minnesota on Nov. 4, Ohio State women’s volleyball setter Mac Podraza remembers asking when the team would start playing like it knew it could. 

"We were like, OK, I'm tired of learning. I'm ready to start acting and ready to start doing, so when are we going to make that switch?” Podraza said. “I think this group has really started making that switch and we're really started to act on those things we learned early on in the season." 

Two days later, Ohio State swept then-No. 9 Nebraska at home to start an eight-game winning streak that carried the Buckeyes (25-5, 15-5 Big Ten) to a No. 9 national seed in the NCAA tournament and has given them the opportunity to host the first two rounds, beginning Friday night at the Covelli Center against Howard at 7 p.m. on ESPN+. 

Ohio State is 25-5 and the No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The winner will play the winner of Tennessee and North Carolina at 6 p.m. Saturday. 

Ohio State has taken another step forward this season after a surprisingly successful, pandemic-shortened season in the spring. 

The Buckeyes surprised the college volleyball world earning the No. 9 overall seed in coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg’s first season with the program last season. They were an inexperienced team and lost in four sets to a Florida team that expects to compete for national championships every year. 

That experience and winning multiple games against other national seeds — Washington, Purdue and Nebraska — has given the Buckeyes the confidence they’ve been looking for to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. 

Ohio State's Arica Davis prepares to spike the ball set from Mac Podraza earlier this season. The Buckeyes are 25-5 and the No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.

“I think it was a surprise to a lot of people, including our squad, for how quickly the success happened,” Oldenburg said. “But then to see it translate into year two, I think it's proof that it wasn't a fluke.” 

The Buckeyes finished the regular season with the second-highest hitting percentage and third-best opponent hitting percentage in the Big Ten, which is widely seen as the best conference in college volleyball. The Big Ten leads the country with eight teams in the 64-team NCAA field, five of which are national seeds hosting the first two rounds. 

Podraza, who was named first-team all-Big Ten with middle blocker Rylee Rader, leads the nation with 11.97 sets per game. Rader leads the conference and is fourth nationally with a .445 hitting percentage. Podraza said the strength of the team is its backcourt, led by libero Kylie Murr, which can often give Podraza a good ball to set to a talented line of hitters in Rader, Emily Londot and Gabby Gonzales. 

"I don't think we've reached our peak. I think we're still climbing,” Podraza said. “I think we still have room to grow, which is a big thing to say in November, December. But I love where we're at.” 

Ohio State's Arica Davis high-fives setter Mac Podraza (10) earlier this season. The Buckeyes are 25-5 and the No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.

This is the first time Ohio State has grabbed a national seed in back-to-back seasons since 2004-06. The No. 9 seed ties last season as the highest seed since 2004, which is the last time Ohio State got past the regional semifinals. The Buckeyes haven’t made a final four since 1994 and have never played for a national title. 

If Ohio State gets out of the first weekend, the Buckeyes will likely travel to Louisville to face the winner of the regional at No. 8 Georgia Tech before possibly facing the No. 1 and unbeaten Cardinals. Unlike last season, this is an Ohio State team that expects to compete with the best. 

Ohio State's Mia Grunze spikes the ball earlier this season. The Buckeyes are 25-5 and the No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.

"The conversations heading into this week is why not us?” Oldenburg said. “We can play with anybody in the nation and we have the opportunity to do that, so let's take advantage of it." 

Murr, the libero, said she saw a change after the loss to Minnesota. The Buckeyes went from being a team that thought it could be mentioned alongside the perennial championship contenders to actually believing it. It’s up to them to prove it now and get to the final four at Nationwide Arena. 

“I think going into this tournament, we want to prove to ourselves (we're good enough), but also of course that chip on our shoulder is we want to show everyone what we're made of and what we're capable of,” Murr said. “If they don't want to talk about it, we're going to show them."