COLUMBUS — For the third time in school history — and second time in exactly 365 days, the Buckeyes are NCAA Champions.
Ohio State’s Men’s Volleyball team successfully defended their 2016 national title with a three-set win over the same BYU team that they defeated one year ago.
The Cougars came into the match with a 25-5 record, but they struggled through the match to keep with a Buckeye team (32-2) that went 25-19, 25-20, and 25-22.
The first set saw three ties and two lead changes, all of which happened fairly early on. With BYU leading 8-7 in the first set, the 8,205 in attendance made themselves known, urging the home team on. The Buckeyes quickly responded, going on an 8-1 run to take control of the first set and grab momentum that BYU was never really able to get back.
“We allowed them to go on some runs and that killed us,” said BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead. “We allowed them to get going on the service line. It’s hard, but that’s what it was. We just had no rhythm. In reality, the decisions were very limited I thought. They just got on runs.”
Thursday night’s hero Nicolas Szerszen began the second set serving, which allowed the Buckeyes to open a modest 2-0 lead, but it was yet another cushion that forced BYU to try and play a perfect match.
The Cougars used both of their timeouts in the second set in an attempt to slow down the OSU attack. The second timeout came with the Buckeyes leading 18-11. BYU wouldn’t quit, however, and went on a 4-0 run to make it 21-17, which then prompted a timeout from OSU coach Pete Hanson. An unforced error by BYU would soon give the Buckeyes the second set at 25-20.
The Cougars came out strong in the third set, showing no signs of giving up. There were 10 ties in the set, but only one lead change. That lead change came when the Buckeyes secured their first advantage of the set at 11-10 on a kill by Maxime Hervoir.
BYU would tie it briefly at 12-12, but the Cougars would never see another lead. The two teams traded errors for a few points before an ace by Miles Johnson and then a kill by Szerszen gave the Buckeyes a five-point lead at 23-18. From there, it was just a matter of time.
Fittingly, the match was ended on a kill from Szerszen, who was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
Setter Christy Blough came into this match as the NCAA’s active leader in assists, and he added 35 more in this one. He spread the ball out quite a bit because his teammates were playing their best game of the year.
“Before the tournament started, Coach Hanson talked about each game that we progressed to needed to be our best game, and I think without a doubt this was our best game of the season,” he said. “I thought everyone really played great. It makes it easy when the passers are passing well because it puts a lot of pressure on their blocking. I just thought it was a whole team effort.”
Blough also added a healthy amount of credit to Szerszen, who was again terrific with 16 kills.
“It makes it pretty easy for me because there were a few balls where he had no business killing,” he said, “But he’s a special player, so he kills those balls and he makes me look a lot better.”
This marked the 50th year of Men’s Volleyball at Ohio State, which they got to end with a banner.
“To do what they did back-to-back is pretty darn special,” Hanson said. “It’s pretty darn special. It’s a special group of young men.”