MIVA tournament preview, Ohio State’s Szerszen leads postseason honors

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Ohio State men's volleyball vs McKendree Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio/Photo/Jay LaPrete

MIVA regular-season champion and top-ranked Ohio State is sitting pretty right now.

The Buckeyes head into this weekend’s MIVA tournament knowing if they continue to win they will not need to leave the friendly confines of St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio for the remainder of the season.

Ohio State opens tournament play at home Saturday with a quarterfinal tilt against No. 8 seed Quincy. Other quarterfinal matches Saturday feature No. 7 Lindenwood at No. 2 Lewis; No. 6 McKendree at No. 3 Grand Canyon; and No. 5 Loyola Chicago at No. 4 Ball State. The tournament reseeds after the quarterfinals. The semifinals occur Wednesday, April 19 at the higher seeds and the tournament final is slated for Saturday, April 22 at the highest remaining seed.

“Top to bottom the field is good,” said Ohio State setter Christy Blough. “We’re playing Quincy and we just went to four sets with them. Anything can happen. Hopefully with the home court, we’ll have that advantage the rest of the playoffs, but right now we’re taking it one game at a time.”

Ohio State (27-2) is only the second team in the last 25 years to go undefeated in MIVA regular-season play, following the 2014 Loyola Chicago team’s 14-0 effort. Ohio State has now won 31 matches in a row against MIVA competition.

Ohio State's Miles Johnson prepares for a spike vs McKendree Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio/Photo/Jay LaPrete
Ohio State’s Miles Johnson prepares for a spike vs McKendree Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio/Photo/Jay LaPrete

“I think the biggest thing is we got ourselves refocuses after the Penn State match,” said Ohio State coach Pete Hanson. “We’ve seen a renewed energy in the kids. We are continuing to harp on them about needing to stay true to ourselves in terms of serving mentality and staying aggressive. We are starting to play to our strength: serve aggressively, get the ball to the setter and our side-out offense is working well.”

Blough stressed the need for the Buckeyes to be on top of their game on defense as well.

“At tournament time we’ll see other teams play good defense because their life depends on it so hopefully our defense will match that,” he said.

Hanson also sees a competitive MIVA field. “There are some strong teams and always the chance for upsets,” he said. “We saw that last year with McKendree going to Muncie and beating Ball State. Grand Canyon clearly has to be excited about hosting a match and they had their highest finish before they leave for the MPSF next year. I’d like to think we can take care of business in the quarterfinals and then going forward you have to continue to play well to keep winning.”

No. 2 seed Lewis (22-6) holds 3-0 and 3-1 wins against Lindenwood this season. After losing in five to Ohio State at home in five, the Flyers come into the tournament having won four contests in a row.

“We are competing hard as a whole group. It’s not just the guys on the floor, but the guys on the bench as well,” said Flyers coach Dan Friend. “We still have a great work ethic about us, improving the small areas every day, which is important late in the season. Our net play has been pretty good lately along with our serving pressure and we want to keep that up.”

Lewis sophomore outside hitter and team captain Jake Walenga knows Lindenwood will be ready to play when it hits Romeoville and the Neal Casey Arena Saturday.

“It’s a pretty competitive conference from top to bottom,” he said. “It’s been shown throughout the regular season that any team, regardless of seed or standing, can come out and beat a team. We’ve had success in the regular season against our conference, but it wasn’t without going five more than a few times. It should make for an exciting tournament and possibly a few upsets.”

Ohio State’s Hanson mentioned the success Grand Canyon has enjoyed this season. The Lopes head into their home contest against McKendree with a 17-10 overall record (Grand Canyon went 11-5 in MIVA action). The Lopes defeated McKendree 3-1 and 3-2 in Lebanon, Ill., during the regular season.

“Our team is doing a number of things well right now, but most importantly we are finding a way to win,” said Grand Canyon coach Matt Werle. “I am a big believer that you must learn how to win and this group of guys has learned how to win over the past couple of seasons. We have a well-balanced offense and our serve-receive has been strong all season. Luckily, if one or two of our starters aren’t playing well, we have a number of options on the bench who will fill in perfectly.”

The 4-5 matchup Saturday has Loyola Chicago heading to Muncie, Ind., to face No. 4 seed Ball State (18-9). Ball State won 3-0 a week ago at home against Loyola, but lost 3-0 in Chicago in February.

“This time of the year seeding goes out the window and you earn wins by how your team performs each night,” said Ball State coach Joel Walton. “The team that wins the MIVA tournament will be battle-tested and ready to compete in the NCAA tournament.”

Ball State setter Connor Gross sees his team starting to put everything together at the right time. “Our team’s focus and execution on the little things are beginning to come through,” he said. “Our defensive intensity is showing more and more each game and our offense has been on par as well. We also have a few guys serving at a really high level, which is making it much easier for our block and defense to work.”

Loyola (16-11) has lost three of its last five contests. “I think there is intrigue in the middle of the pack, maybe more son than in year’s past,” said Loyola coach Mark Hulse on the MIVA tournament field. “We are coming in seeded lower than we’d like to be, but I think there are other teams outside the top four that feel like they could win a match or two. That said, I think all four host gyms have proven to be great volleyball venues at times this year and we could be looking at some solid home-court advantages throughout the playoffs.”

MIVA Postseason Awards:

Ohio State junior outside hitter Nicolas Szerszen has been named the MIVA player of the year for the second year in a row, while Ball State outside hitter Matt Szews and Lewis outside hitter Ryan Coenen both were named MIVA freshman of the year. Ohio State’s Pete Hanson is the MIVA coach of the year.

Szerszen, who was the 2016 MIVA player of the year, is the 10th individual in league history to twice earn the honor. In league play, he was second in the conference in kills per set (3.37) and attack percentage (.404). His 38 aces (0.68 pet set) in conference play led all players. He was named the MIVA offensive player of the week and AVCA national player of the week on Jan. 10. He helped the Buckeyes to a perfect 16-0 record in league play.

Szews was third in the league in conference play with 3.57 kills per set. He hit .242 while recording 1.81 digs per set. He recorded 22 double-digit kill matches including a season-high 23 vs. Grand Canyon.

Coenen shares the freshman of the year honor with Szews due to a tie in the voting. Coenen hit .295 with 3.20 kills per set, sixth-best in the league. He was named the MIVA defensive player of the week on March 21. He had 20 double-digit kill matches. Coenen is the second consecutive Flyer to earn the honor as Mitch Perinar earned the award last season.

This is Hanson’s 13th MIVA coach of the year honor.

All-MIVA First Team:

  • Matt Szews, Ball State – OH – Fr.
  • Matt Walsh, Ball State – MH – Jr.
  • Ryan Coenen, Lewis – OH – R-Fr.
  • Mitch Perinar, Lewis – OPP – R-So.
  • Michael Simmons, Lewis – L – R-So.
  • Matt Yoshimoto, Lewis – S – So.
  • Jeff Jendryk, Loyola – MH – Jr.
  • Christy Blough, Ohio State – S – Sr.
  • Miles Johnson, Ohio State – OPP – Sr.
  • Nicolas Szerszen, Ohio State – OH – Jr.

All-MIVA Second Team:

  • Connor Gross, Ball State – S – Sr.
  • Cullen Mosher, Grand Canyon – OH – R-Jr.
  • Drake Silbernagel, Grand Canyon – MH – Sr.
  • Ben Plaisted, Loyola – OPP – Jr.
  • Collin Mahan, Loyola – OH – So.
  • Wyatt Patterson, McKendree – MH – Sr.
  • Maalik Walker, McKendree – OPP – Sr.
  • Gabriel Domecus, Ohio State – L – Sr.
  • Driss Guessous, Ohio State – MH – R-Sr.
  • Jarrod Kelso, Quincy – MH – Jr.

All-MIVA Honorable Mention:

  • Brendan Surane, Ball State – S – Sr.
  • Pelegrin Vargas, Fort Wayne – OH – Fr.
  • Sky Engleman, Grand Canyon – L – Jr.
  • Michael Milstein, Grand Canyon – S – Sr.
  • Jacob Schmiegelt, Lewis – MH – R-Sr.
  • Connor Hipelius, Lindenwood – MH – So.
  • Sam Schindler, Lindenwood – MH – Fr.
  • Pasquale Fiduccia, McKendree – S – Jr.
  • Brendan Schmidt, McKendree – MB – R-Jr.
  • Maxime Hervoir, Ohio State – OH – Jr.

All-Freshmen Team:

  • Matt Szews, Ball State – OH
  • Nick Lavanchy, Ball State – L
  • Pelegrin Vargas, Fort Wayne – OH
  • Ryan Coenen, Lewis – OH
  • Kyle Bugee, Lewis – OH
  • Sam Schindler, Lindenwood – MB
  • Ian Cowen, Loyola – S

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