COLUMBUS — Once the Buckeyes got started, there was nothing the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors could do to stop them.
Led by the stellar serving of All-American Nicolas Szerszen and the precision passing of Christy Blough, the No. 1-seed Buckeyes (31-2) went 25-23, 25-18, and 25-19 over No. 4-seed Hawaii (27-6) to advance to the NCAA title game on Saturday against No. 3-seed BYU (26-4).
Ohio State never trailed in the first set, but their biggest lead was just four points. Leading 24-23, Blough set Szerszen up for the kill, and Szerszen came through with the set-closing blast.
Hawaii only had two leads in the match, and both came early in the second set. Their first lead came at 1-0, then then again at 3-2. From that point on, however, Szerszen and the Buckeyes began to assert their will.
With OSU leading 9-8 and serving, Szerszen came through with three consecutive aces, and while Hawaii was able to return his fourth serve, he eventually responded with the kill. On his very next serve, he dialed up yet another ace. Within a matter of moments, the Buckeyes put together six straight points and would carry that lead to a 25-18 set win.
The third set was a mere formality. Ohio State built a five-point lead early on and Hawaii could never overcome it. They closed the gap to four points several times, but could get no closer as the Buckeyes’ final two points came via a pair of kills by Szerszen.
“Set No. 1 was close,” OSU head coach Pete Hanson said after the match. “We made a couple of plays at the end and got that one. Then our big guy from the end line got uncorked on set No. 2 and got us a nice cushion. It’s easy to play with a lead when you’ve got a cushion like that. It allows everybody to relax and settle in, and we were able to do that. Set No. 3, kind of the same thing happened, although we didn’t get the service pressure that we wanted, but I thought we played better offensively. We just didn’t allow them to gain any momentum and get any runs. It’s just a credit to our passers, our setter Christy just delivering the ball to the right guys, and those guys putting the ball in.”
The Buckeyes played well with the home-crowd advantage, as 4,834 fans watched Ohio State’s domination. The impact of the crowd wasn’t lost on the players.
“The crowd was awesome,” said Gabriel Domecus. “We’ve never really had a crowd like that before. It was absolutely amazing playing in front of a group like that. It really helped our game go even further. The energy that they brought every single point was just unbelievable.”
There won’t be much time for Hanson and his Buckeyes to enjoy this one as BYU looms on Saturday. The Cougars won in three sets over Long Beach State (25-20, 25-18, and 25-23) and looked very good doing it.
“An awesome crowd tonight,” Hanson said as he looked toward BYU on Saturday. “Can’t thank Buckeye Nation enough for coming out and supporting the tournament and supporting us in that match. It’s going to be a great match on Saturday. Clearly, BYU is a very motivated team the way they won that first match. It will be a challenge, but hopefully we’ll be ready.”
The NCAA Championship Match will be Saturday night at 7:00 pm and will be aired on ESPN2. The Buckeyes are looking to repeat as national champions.