Ohio Northern Athletic News, Season Review: Volleyball closes 2023 with 12th straight winning season

By Annie Walker

December 28, 2023


ONU Volleyball kept rolling under first year head coach Sophie Windover

ADA — Under first-year head coach Sophie Windover, the Ohio Northern volleyball team closed 2023 with a 17-10 record for its 12th straight winning season.

The Polar Bears opened the season by winning nine of their first 10 games with their only loss in that stretch being a 3-1 defeat to then-No. 8 and eventual national quarterfinalist Wisconsin-Oshkosh on the road. Northern was ranked as high as No. 23 nationally in the AVCA NCAA Division III Top 25 Poll and ended the regular season tied for fourth in the Ohio Athletic Conference with a 5-4 mark.

As the No. 4 seed in the OAC Tournament, ONU got a 3-1 win over fifth-seeded John Carroll in the quarterfinals before falling at top-seeded Otterbein in the semifinals.

“What an exciting season, and it was truly an honor to lead this program. We grew as a group and fought through several battles together learning how to win and lose with grace,” Windover said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do this spring. Next season is going to be a great year.”

Juniors Erin Wagner (Massillon/Perry) and Rachel Jennings (Novi, Mich.) led the Polar Bears on the court in 2023.

Wagner earned multiple accolades this season highlighted by being named an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American, becoming the 21st student-athlete in program history to garner All-American status. She was also named to the AVCA All-Region 7 First Team, All-OAC First Team and All-OAC Tournament Team and was a two-time OAC Offensive Player of the Week selection.

Wagner closed the year with an OAC-best .336 hitting percentage, ranked second in the conference in kills per set (3.46), fourth in total kills (360) and 11th in blocks (71) in 27 games.

In 74 games at ONU, the two-time All-Region and All-OAC and three-time OAC Player of the Week honoree has 799 kills, 170 blocks and 119 digs, and her .307 hitting percentage is seventh-best in program history.

“Erin had an incredible season this fall,” Windover said. “Not only is she a great player, but she embodies what you look for when defining ONU volleyball. She earned all of her accolades, and I know her final chapter is going to be beautifully written.”

Jennings was an All-OAC Second Team selection and three-time OAC Defensive Player of the Week in 2023, finishing the year ranked 14th nationally in Division III with 615 digs. Named to the Wisconsin-Oshkosh Invitational All-Tournament Team early in the season, she closed the year with a team-high 41 service aces to go with 138 assists in 27 games. She led the OAC in digs per set (5.91), ranked third in total digs and fifth in aces.

Jennings has 1,606 digs, 267 assists and 124 aces in 80 career games at ONU. She ranks 10th in program history in career digs and is a three-time All-OAC and seven-time OAC Player of the Week honoree.

“Rachel had her best season yet, and I feel fortunate to have been here for it,” Windover said. “She is always the one to put in extra work, train the team deeper on the mental side of the game and find new ways to bond us. She has been such a staple for our back row and is another beaming example of how you would define ONU volleyball.”

Juniors Lauren James (Farmington Hills, Mich./North Farmington) and Sonia Dahlin (Minnetonka, Minn.) rounded out ONU’s 2023 All-OAC selections as Honorable Mention picks.

James finished the season with 195 kills, 52 digs and a team-high 111 blocks, which ranked fourth in the OAC, in 27 games. She also ranked second on the team with 27 aces and a .255 hitting percentage.

In 74 career games at ONU, James has 394 kills and a .221 hitting percentage along with 239 blocks and 76 digs. She is 21 solo blocks and 71 total blocks shy of breaking into the program’s all-time top 10 lists in those categories.

“Lauren came in with a brand new energy this fall and was a force on the court. Inside those lines, she was fiercely competitive and highly demanding — truly one of the best celebrations to watch,” Windover said. “It was a joy seeing her blossom into the leader she is today, and I know 2024 will break her into the top 10 for blocking in both of those categories.”

Dahlin played 26 games in 2023 and ranked third on the team in hitting percentage (.240) and kills (204) and second in blocks (73). Her block total ranked 10th in the OAC.

Through 59 career games at ONU, Dahlin has 448 kills with a .213 hitting percentage to go with 137 blocks and 76 digs.

“Sonia was a warrior the entire fall. She never saw a bad day, was always focused on completing the task at hand and was a pain when you needed her to hold back a little on recovery day. But that’s every coach’s dream,” Windover said. “Sonia grew as an individual this fall, which boosted her leadership skills for those facing the same hardships.”

Other standouts this season included seniors Ava Ehlinger (New Carlisle/Tecumseh), Kaidie Carstensen (Raymond/Fairbanks) and Grace Irmer (Indianapolis, Ind./Roncalli), junior Grace Conrad (Somerset/Sheridan) and sophomore Caroline Hensley (Loveland/Bishop Fenwick).

Ehlinger ranked second on the team with 290 kills and 266 digs to go with 48 blocks and 24 aces in 27 games. She ranked sixth in the OAC in kills and ninth in kills per set (2.79). She has 647 kills, 335 digs and 90 blocks in 76 career games.

Carstensen tallied 102 kills in 22 games in 2023 and has 293 kills in 52 career games.

Irmer posted 219 digs, 36 assists and 20 aces in 27 games this season and has 665 digs, 101 assists and 58 aces in 88 career games.

Conrad led ONU in assists this season with 744, which ranked third in the OAC, while adding 232 digs in 27 games. She ranks ninth all-time at ONU with 1,838 assists and has 550 digs in 78 career games.

Hensley ranked second on the team in assists this season with 321 and added 90 digs in 26 games. She has 607 assists and 157 digs in 42 career games.

The Polar Bears also succeeded in the classroom in 2023, earning four College Sports Communicators Academic All-District and eight Academic All-OAC accolades.

Irmer, Dahlin, Jennings and Wagner earned both accolades and were joined by Hensley, senior Kassie Bowmar (Sunbury/Big Walnut), junior Kendra Ackerman (New Washington/Buckeye Central) and sophomore Chelsea May (Findlay/Liberty Benton) on the Academic All-OAC list.