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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 05/09/2011 1:17 PM

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Men's Volleyball
OSU Men’s Volleyball Team Grabs National Spotlight
By Brandon Castel

It is not often that a sport other than football or basketball can steal the spotlight in Columbus, but the Ohio State men’s volleyball team has captured the national spotlight after their 3-1 upset of No. 2 seed and host Penn State in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.

All eyes will be on State College, Pa. Saturday night as the No. 3 seed Buckeyes (25-6) take on No. 4 seed UC Santa Barbara (18-14) for the NCAA Championship following the Gauchos’ 3-1 upset of top-seeded USC.

“I think we came out with a lot of good fire,” said Mike Berzins, an Ohio State junior from Brinklow, Md.

“We are similar. Both teams have a lot of passion for the game. We both approach the game the same way. We bring a lot of energy and it shows the reason why we are here. We both have so much passion for the game.”

After losing to Stanford 3-0 in the semifinals of last year’s NCAA tournament, the Buckeyes advance to the national championship match for the third time in program history. They will be the higher seed Saturday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) at Rec Hall, but Ohio State would still be considered the underdogs against the red-hot Gauchos.

“I think so. Everyone really thinks it's usually the west coast schools that are in the finals,” said Ohio State’s John Klanaca, a 6-5 senior from Orchard Park, N.Y.

“Santa Barbara especially in their conference they finished with a .500 record. With us being here and them being an MPSF school finishing .500, I think it's for sure two underdogs. I like to be in that position being the underdog.”

Both teams are coming off 3-1 victories over higher-seeded teams in the semifinals, but UC Santa Barbara had to pull off the improbable feat of knocking off the No. 1 team in the country twice in two days to advance to the finals.

It is the kind of magical run that seems destined for greatness, but Ohio State Head Coach Pete Hanson knows his team cannot be worried about stopping fate.

“I think it's clearly an amazing thing. I think we have to not get caught up in that. We have to stay true to what we have been doing which is playing our game of volleyball and preparing for an opponent the same way we have done for the last 27 to 30 opponents and just going out and playing,” said Hanson, who has been the head coach in Columbus since 1985.

“At some point in time, maybe, if you bring enough pressure to the other team, then maybe Santa Barbara's magic will wear off and they can't sustain that kind of magic for enough time. That's the beauty of athletics. A team gets going like that and they play with a great amount of confidence and good things are happening. We are just going to have to see if we can get that magic on our side of the net.”

UC Santa Barbara coach Rick McLaughlin has said all season that his team would be the eventual national champions. With the upset of USC, it would be easy to feel like the mission has been accomplished, but McLaughlin knows they face a tough Ohio State team in the final.

“They serve well, and they've got a great setter. He's a guy that knows how to run an offense; he's really good,” he said.

“And they've got some leadership too, some older guys like we do. I expect them to battle just like we have, because their backs are against the wall, too. I think Pete (Hanson) has been doing a great job for a long time, and I have a lot of respect for Pete. They'll be ready.”

The Buckeyes are 0-7 all-time against UCSB, with their most recent loss coming last season at the Volleyball Hall of Fame/Morgan Classic. Their first two national title matches ended in defeat, first in 1977 to USC and then in 2000 to UCLA.

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