COLUMBUS – They announced the names of the first-team All-American men’s volleyball team between sets at the NCAA Final-Four last night. The name Nicolas Szerszen was on that list.
Take it to the bank, the vast majority of Ohio State fans who see or hear that name will respond with a funny face and an inquisitive “Who?”
It might interest you to know that before Thursday evening I was one of those people. For all I knew Nicolas Szerszen was a a dog catcher in Grandview or a bartender at BW3 or the mayor of the Ohio village of Hamler.
By the time the Ohio State men’s volleyball team got done wrecking Hawaii 3-0 in the national semifinals in St. John Arena I was no longer a stranger to Nicolas Szerszen. I knew Szerszen was special, because he did what every All-American does. When the chips were down, and the stakes were the highest, Szerszen took over the match in a way that no other player on the court could do. It was excellence even the newest of new comers could see.
I’m living proof of that.
Ohio State had won the first set with Hawaii 25-23, the slimmest margin possible in Volleyball where wins must be by two or more points. The hard-fought first set was followed up by a set that was an absolute dog fight at start, and Ohio State owned a slim 9-8 lead when the magic happened.
The Buckeyes were serving, and it was Szerszen on the back line delivering the ball for OSU. The rocket he delivered was too much for Hawaii to return and ended up a service ace to make the score 10-8. It was breathing room, but not much, at least not yet.
Szerszen stepped up to serve again and delivered another burner that was a service ace to make it 11-8, and now there was actually a bit of comfort for the Buckeyes. The comfort turned to Buckeye jubilation when Szerszen calmly stepped back and completed the hat trick with his third-straight blast for a service ace to make it 12-8.
He wasn’t done yet.
Szerszen didn’t deliver the fourth-straight ace, but did deliver a serve that turned into a competitive volley. That volley ended when Szerszen got the kill to make it 13-8 Buckeyes.
And just for good measure, Szerszen delivered his fourth blistering ace on the serve following his kill to make it 14-8 OSU.
The Rainbows never really recovered.
It was an awesome display, and for those of you who don’t follow a lot of volleyball, here’s some numbers to put in perspective.
In the entire three-set match Hawaii had one, ONE, service ace. Ohio State had six, five of them by Szerszen, and four of those five in one service turn. He also had a team-high 10 kills for the Buckeyes from his outside hitter position, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
From the point of his five-consecutive scores on, the Buckeyes were in charge of the match – not just that set – the match. Szerszen had stepped up and set a tone that said, “We’re the best here tonight, and I’ve just shown you that’s true.” He knew it, the Rainbows knew it, hell, even I knew it, and I don’t know squat about volleyball.
The Buckeyes went on to cruise to an easy 25-18 win in that second set, then dominated Hawaii in set three, 25-19. A match that was close as could be in the first set was no longer so because of the dominance of one player at a critical point in time. It’s what All-Americans do, and when they do it, everybody can tell.That includes his teammates who try to elevate their own game when Szerszen goes off, and that makes for a better team all around.
“You always want to one-up him, but that’s not always possible,” said smiling teammate Gabriel Domecus after the game drawing a chuckle from reporters.
“Nick does a great job serving every single match and when he gets on those runs everyone kind of takes a breath and we’re playing in a relaxed state. I feel like everyone’s game goes up,” said Domecus.
Troy Smith, Jimmy Jackson, Archie Griffin, Jerry Lucas, Evan Turner, and on and on, All-Americans are players who take over games at critical times and raise the play of the teammates around them. They stand out the moment you see them, and you don’t have to know a whole lot about what they are doing to know they are special at doing it.
Do yourself a favor. Whether you know anything about volleyball or not, watch Nicolas Szerszen (No. 9) when Ohio State plays BYU this Saturday in a rematch of last year’s national championship game, which the Buckeyes won. It will be the biggest of venues and the grandest of stages, just the kind of environment where an All-American thrives. If you take the time to watch you just might be in for a special treat.