By Scott Beaton
WESTERVILLE — The No. 22-ranked Ohio Northern volleyball program battled to earn a pivotal four-set road victory over Otterbein at the Rike Center in Westerville on Tuesday evening.
The Polar Bears move to 18-7 overall and 7-1 in the OAC with the 21-25, 25-22, 25-16, 25-15 win. The Cardinals fall to 19-7 overall and 7-1 in the OAC. The teams are now tied for first in the conference with each program scheduled to conclude their regular season slates this weekend.
Junior outside hitter McKenna Jordan (Toledo/St. Ursula) recorded 20 kills on 53 total attacks to lead the Northern attack. Meanwhile, sophomore setter Katie Wade (Battle Creek, Mich./Harper Creek) registered her 24th career double-double with 46 assists and tying her season-high in digs with 16.
Reigning OAC Athlete of the Week Madi Ellis (Delphos/St. John's) and All-American Chelsea Huppert (Bremen, Ind.) each contributed 11 kills from the middle hitter position. Ellis, a freshman, hit .478 and Huppert, a junior, hit .321 on the night.
Junior defensive specialists Madison Broering (Saint Henry) and Kristin Langston (Versailles) had 19 and 14 digs, respectively. Junior libero McKenna Hostetler (Plain City/Alder) added 17 digs and freshman defensive specialist Hannah Irmer (Indianapolis, Ind./Roncalli) chipped in a career-high 12 digs.
After racing out to an 8-2 advantage at the beginning of the match, Otterbein took a 1-0 lead after winning the initial set 25-21.
The Polar Bears responded in a tight, back-and-forth second set that saw numerous lead changes early. ONU then took charge of the set when Huppert recorded a kill to give the visitors an 11-10 advantage that they did not surrender, taking the frame with a 25-22 victory to level the match.
Ohio Northern started fast in the third set, opening on a 9-4 run fueled by Jordan as she registered an astounding nine kills in the set. Otterbein never got closer than four points after the inital ONU run before the Polar Bears reeled off four straight kills to win the set.
Northern again jumped out to a 9-4 advantage in the fourth set. The ONU lead grew to as many as 12 in the set before the Polar Bears scored the final point, taking the set and clinching the match 25-15.
Ohio Northern outhit Otterbein .226 to .176. The Polar Bears posted 58 kills with 18 errors while the Cardinals tallied 54 kills with 23 errors.
ONU will return to the court when the team travels to Alliance on Saturday to take on Mount Union with a chance to earn at least a share of the OAC title for the third straight season. Ohio Northern can also clinch the No. 1 seed in the OAC Tournament with a win Saturday. The match is slated for a 1:00 p.m. start at the McPherson Academic and Athletic Complex.