By Caleb Scott
ADA — The Ohio Northern volleyball team earned its second straight bid to the NCAA Div. III Volleyball tournament in 2017 and claimed at least a share of the Ohio Athletic Conference Regular Season title for the second consecutive season under the guidance of 27th-year head coach Kate Witte.
Northern claimed a share of the OAC Regular Season title with nationally ranked Otterbein after posting an 8-1 record in conference play.
The Polar Bears (29-6 overall) were mentioned in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll every week during the season and climbed as high as No. 17 during the fifth weekly edition of the poll.
Northern saw five members named All-OAC during the 2017 campaign.
Freshman Katie Wade (Battle Creek, Mich./Harper Creek) was named the OAC Freshman of the Year for Ohio Northern (27-5 overall), while senior libero Megan Nieszala (Lambertville, Mich./St. Marys Catholic Central) and sophomore Chelsea Huppert (Bremen, Ind.) were named First Team All-OAC, sophomore McKenna Jordan (Toledo/St. Ursula) and Wade were named Second Team All-OAC and senior Haley Potters (Wheelersburg/South Webster) was named Honorable Mention All-OAC.
Nieszala earned her third career All-Conference kudos and was named First Team All-OAC for the second time in her career.
Huppert earned her second All-OAC honor in her two years as a Polar Bear. The sophomore was named First Team All-OAC after leading the team offensively and defensively at the net.
She currently ranks 10th all-time at ONU with 69 block solos and her .336 career hitting percentage is third-best in ONU history.
Jordan, the 2016 OAC Freshman of the Year, was named Second Team All-OAC and earned her second All-Conference honor.
As well as earning OAC Freshman of the Year honors, Wade was dubbed a Second Team All-OAC honoree.
The freshman stepped into the setter role for Ohio Northern and had a record-breaking season.
Her 1,369 assists in her first season as a Polar Bear was the second-best mark ever posted by a freshman in program history. The freshman is only 125 assists away from cracking the all-time top-10 career assists list at ONU.
The freshman led the country in assists in 2017, while Huppert ranked eighth nationally with 131 total blocks.
Potters was named All-OAC for the second time in her career as she was named Honorable Mention All-OAC.
The trio of Nieszala, Huppert and Wade also garnered All-Great Lakes Region honors for their efforts during the 2017 campaign.
Nieszala and Huppert each earned First Team All-Great Lakes honors, while Wade was dubbed the All-Great Lakes Region Freshman of the Year.
Nieszala ended her career ranked No. 4 all-time on ONU's dig list as she compiled 1,878 digs during her 4-year career at ONU.
After being named First Team All-Great Lakes Region, Nieszala and Huppert were automatically on the ballot for AVCA All-America honors where the duo took home AVCA Honorable Mention All-America kudos. Nieszala earned the honor for the second time in her career, while Huppert earned the honor for the first time in her career.
Nieszala, junior Josie Andres (Sunman, Ind./East Central), and sophomores Madison Broering (Saint Henry), McKenna Hostetler (Plain City/Alder), Kristin Langston (Versailles) and Huppert all earned Academic All-OAC honors for the Polar Bears for their efforts on the court and in the classroom.
From there, Nieszala and Huppert would earn Academic All-District in Volleyball by the College Sports Information Directors of America for 2017.
The award winners must be a sophomore or higher in class standing, must be a starter or important reserve with at least a 3.30 cumulative grade point average (on a 4.0 scale) at his/her current institution.
ONU opened the season at the 39th annual ONU Invitational and posted a 3-1 record.
From there, Northern won 13 of its next 15 contests, including victories over No. 22 Elmhurst (Ill.) and No. 12 Washington (Mo.) to close out the month of September.
After falling in a 5-set thriller to eventual OAC Regular Season Co-Champ Otterbein in its October opener, Northern won its next 11 matches by a combined match score of 33-1.
Northern would fall 3-0 to Otterbein in the OAC Tournament Championship match before earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Div. III Tournament.
The Polar Bears opened the NCAA Tournament with a hard-fought 3-2 victory over DePauw (Ind.) before defeating No. 25-ranked Otterbein 3-0 in the second round of the tournament.
ONU bowed out of the tournament and saw its season come to an end as it dropped a 3-0 decision to No. 3-ranked and eventual National Runner-Up Wittenberg.
"I thought we had an excellent season,'" head coach Kate Witte said. "Overall I felt like we played well and looked good. This was the toughest conference race we have had in a few years and it really prepared us for the NCAAs. I think we really grew as a team throughout the year after playing one of the toughest schedules in the country and we had some really good moments of consistency. I think we have a lot to build off of heading into the offseason and we have a chance to be good again next year if the girls put in the time and effort for next season."