By Blake Moore
ADA — The Ohio Northern women's volleyball program saw continued success in the Ohio Athletic Conference and on the national stage during the 2018 campaign, capturing a share of its third successive OAC Regular Season crown, the 20th OAC Tournament title in school history, and receiving its third straight bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament under 28th-year head coach Kate Witte.
In 2018, the Polar Bears compiled a 22-8 overall record and an 8-1 record in OAC action to mark their seventh consecutive winning season. Northern would finish tied atop the Ohio Athletic Conference standings with league rival Otterbein, securing a title share and providing the program with the top seed headed into the OAC Tournament.
Northern then proceeded to sweep past eighth-seeded Marietta and topple fourth-seeded Baldwin Wallace and third-seeded Muskingum 3-1 en route to their league-leading 20th OAC Tournament crown. ONU would also secure their third straight trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament, earning the conference's automatic qualifying bid.
With the bid, the Polar Bears made their 31st all-time appearance in the 38-year history of the NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Tournament.
As the fifth-seeded team at the Calvin (Mich.) host site, Ohio Northern faced off against No. 18-ranked and fourth-seeded UW-Whitewater in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Polar Bears battled the Warhawks down to the final point, but eventually dropped a 3-0 decision to conclude their stellar campaign.
Throughout the season, Northern garnered national attention from the American Volleyball Coaches Association, ranking as high as No. 15 on their third weekly national poll released in late September.
Additionally, head volleyball coach Kate Witte surpassed a coaching career milestone during the campaign. The Polar Bears upended area-rival Bluffton 3-0 inside the ONU Sports Center on September 11, giving the 28th-year head coach her 700th all-time career coaching victory at Ohio Northern. Following the season, her win total stands at 715 matches, which makes her the winningest coach in school history.
"Overall, we had an excellent year," Coach Witte remarked. "The team improved throughout the year and began to play their best volleyball towards the middle of October. We are extremely pleased with winning both the OAC Regular Season and OAC Tournament titles, especially during one of the most competitive conference races in recent history."
"Receiving our 31st bid to the NCAA Tournament is a huge accomplishment. We were hoping to advance further in the tournament with a tough first match against UW-Whitewater, but I am still pleased with our performance this season."
Following the season, several volleyball student-athletes were recognized at the conference and national levels. In total, three individuals were named to the All-Ohio Athletic Conference teams, two received All-Great Lakes Region accolades, and junior Chelsea Huppert (Bremen, Ind.) was tabbed an AVCA All-American for the 2018 campaign.
Huppert garnered her second straight nod to the AVCA All-America Honorable Mention team following a standout junior campaign. Additionally, the third-year middle hitter would be named to the AVCA All-Great Lakes Region First-Team, CoSIDA Academic All-America Second-Team and Academic All-District First-Team, All-OAC First-Team, Academic All-OAC team, and the Calvin (Mich.) and Wittenberg Invitational All-Tournament teams this season.
The Bremen, Indiana native led the Polar Bears with 368 kills, a .340 hitting percentage, and 70 total blocks while her kills and attack percentage marks also ranked her third among OAC student-athletes. In addition, her season hitting percentage currently ranks third all-time in the junior class record book at Ohio Northern.
Huppert now owns 1,025 career kills, a .338 hitting clip, and 286 career blocks in her three years as a Polar Bear. Her career hitting percentage ranks third all-time in program history.
Classmate McKenna Jordan (Toledo/St. Ursula) joined Huppert on the AVCA All-Great Lakes Region listing, earning Honorable Mention status for the first time in her career. The junior also garnered Second-Team All-OAC, ONU Invitational All-Tournament team, and OAC Athlete of the Week honors during the season.
In 2018, Jordan finished second on the team with 285 kills and registered a .202 hitting percentage, 16 total blocks, and 82 digs. Her 3.00 kills per set would rank fourth in the Ohio Athletic Conference while her kill total would stand ninth among the conference leaderboards.
The junior outside hitter now owns 921 career kills, a .219 attack rate, 550 digs, and 67 total blocks through three seasons at Ohio Northern.
Freshman middle hitter Madi Ellis (Delphos/St. John's) rounded out the team's all-conference selections this year after she was named All-OAC Second-Team and the OAC Freshman of the Year honoree.
The Delphos native proved to be a powerful net presence for the Polar Bears in her first season, registering 59 total blocks and 228 kills to rank second and third on the team statistical charts, respectively. Her .318 hitting percentage also ended second on the team and fourth in the OAC while setting a new freshman class record.
The Ohio Northern volleyball program was equally impressive in the classroom this season, posting a school-record nine student-athlete on the Academic All-Ohio Athletic Conference team. Senior Josie Andres (Sunman, Ind./East Central), juniors Madison Broering (Saint Henry), McKenna Hostetler (Plain City/Alder), Huppert, and Kristin Langston (Versailles), and sophomores Paige Hartings (Coldwater), Katie Wade (Battle Creek, Mich./Harper Creek), Christen Ware (Jackson Center) and Hope Williamson (Noblesville, Ind./Heritage Christian) all received the academic honor.
To receive the conference honor, student-athletes must be a sophomore-or-higher in academic standing, maintain varsity-level status during the season, and hold a minimum 3.50 cumulative grade-point average.
Andres, Broering, Hostetler, Huppert, and Langston each appeared on the Academic All-OAC listing for the second time in their respective careers. Meanwhile, Hartings, Wade, Ware, and Williamson all received their first nod to the Academic All-OAC team in 2018.
Andres, a middle hitter majoring in sport management, accumulated 129 kills and 25 blocks in 27 matches and was named to the ONU Invitational All-Tournament Team this year.
In her two seasons as a Polar Bear, she owns 218 kills and 52 blocks after transferring from Mount Saint Joseph.
Broering, a middle childhood education major, finished second on the team with 450 digs this season.
She has played setter, libero, and defensive specialist in her three seasons as a Polar Bear, racking up 689 digs and 147 assists in her career.
Hostetler, a libero/defensive specialist majoring in accounting, led the Polar Bears with 540 digs and 43 service aces this season while playing in all 30 matches.
She will enter her final season sporting 1,415 digs and 129 assists in her career.
Huppert is a middle hitter majoring in pharmacy, who also registered her second consecutive conference academic award.
Langston is a defensive specialist majoring in business management. During the 2018 campaign, she recorded 103 digs in 22 matches.
She will enter her senior season with 513 digs and 53 service aces in 71 career matches.
Hartings, a sophomore marketing major, started the final six games at outside hitter this season and finished with 56 kills in 12 total appearances.
Throughout her first two seasons, she has posted 75 kills and 16 blocks in 21 career matches.
Wade is a two-year starter at setter majoring in public relations and accounting.
She ranked third in the OAC and 18th in the country this season with 10.62 assists per set. The second-year student-athlete also compiled 1,041 assists, 23 blocks, 257 digs, and 19 aces this season.
Wade was named Second Team All-OAC as a freshman in 2017 and ranks seventh all-time in ONU history with 2,410 career assists.
Ware, a second-year nursing student, played in three matches this season and collected three kills.
In her two seasons at middle hitter, Ware has 24 kills, three blocks, and seven digs in 15 career appearances.
Williamson appeared in 15 matches as a middle hitter this season to record 37 kills, 12 blocks, and 11 digs this season.
The civil engineering major will enter her junior season with 50 kills and 14 blocks in 23 career matches.
Ohio Northern kicked off the 2018 regular season with a 3-1 effort at the ONU Invitational, which included a win over No. 12-ranked Carnegie Mellon (Pa.).
Throughout the remaining non-conference slate, the Polar Bears would finish 2-1 at the Bluffton Spiketacular, 3-1 at the Wittenberg Fall Classic, and 1-3 at the Midwest Invitational. The program would also post non-conference victories over Denison, Bluffton, and Kenyon this season.
The Polar Bears would go on to finish 8-1 in the Ohio Athletic Conference regular season, tying with conference rival Otterbein for a share of the OAC title. They would follow the regular season up with the OAC Tournament title and their third straight trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament, falling to UW-Whitewater in the first round to conclude the season.
"Looking forward to next year, we have a lot coming back with a large veteran group and six or seven new freshmen additions," Witte stated regarding the 2019 campaign. "It will be an interesting offseason as we have a tough nonconference schedule ahead, beginning with our ONU Invitational that will welcome in some very difficult competition. We will have to hit the ground running next season, but we are looking forward to it."