If there was any doubt, Ohio State left no question about which is the team to beat this season in NCAA men’s volleyball.
The top-ranked Buckeyes improved to 10-0 by winning their MIVA season opener for both teams, 29-27, 25-19, 25-22 at Ball State on Thursday night, but the real number is 33.
That’s because Ohio State, which hasn’t lost since February 6 of last year, extended its winning streak to 33 matches, which includes, of course, winning last spring’s NCAA championship.
All about that match and No. 3 Long Beach State’s sweep of No. 9 Pepperdine and more, but first a look at Friday’s matches on a busy night ahead in men’s volleyball.
Start with the MPSF, where No. 2 UCLA (9-1, 6-0) plays on back-to-back nights at No. 4 BYU (7-2, 2-1). No. 7 Stanford (6-2, 3-0) goes to No. 14 CSUN (8-3, 1-3), No. 6 UC Irvine (8-3, 5-2) plays host to USC (2-7, 1-5), and No. 11 UCSB (6-3, 3-3) plays back-to-back at No. 5 Hawai’i (8-2, 1-2). Cal Baptist (2-8) steps out of conference when Grand Canyon of the MIVA (4-4) visits.
Also in the MIVA on Friday, No. 8 Lewis (6-2, 1-1) plays host to Quincy (3-4, 1-0), No. 10 Loyola (4-3, 0-0) entertains Lindenwood (0-7, 0-4) and McKendree (5-6, 1-0) goes to Fort Wayne (3-8, 0-0).
In the EIVA, when you consider that last year Saint Francis really shook things up by beating Penn State not only in the regular season but bounced the Nittany Lions out of the league tournament, their conference opener at State College should be fierce. Saint Francis is 4-5, while Penn State is 5-4. There are three other non-conference matches involving league teams as Charleston (4-3) goes to St. Andrews, Sacred Heart (4-1) plays host to Alderson Broaddus and Princeton (2-4) finishes its California trip at Concordia.
Ohio State sweeps Ball State: Miles Johnson had a big night for the Buckeyes as the senior opposite had 19 kills in 29 swings with just one error to hit .621. He also had two aces, two digs and three blocks.
“He had a great night,” Ohio State coach Pete Hanson said. “Miles is just really playing with a lot of confidence right now. I think he and (setter Christy Blough) are in a really good rhythm and he’s just having a great year so far.”
Nicolas Szerszen was also almost unstoppable as the junior outside had 13 kills in 19 swings and hit .526.
“It’s kind of funny because a lot of teams really believe that Nic stirs our drink and quite frankly really it’s been Miles for the last half of last year and the start of this year, at least killing the ball,” Hanson said. “Szer does a lot of other things, passing and serving and digging and things like that, but when we need a tough side out the guy we go to is number 13.”
Szerszen had five of Ohio State’s nine aces and seven digs.
“Nick’s a gamer,” Hanson said. “No doubt about it, when the stakes are the highest that’s when he plays his best volleyball. We’ve come to count on that.”
Maxime Hervoir added eight kills, six digs and four blocks, one solo.
Ohio State hasn’t lost since losing to Ball State nearly a year ago and the last time the program has a 32-match winning streak, in 1970, it lost to Ball State.
“At least we don’t have to print again that Ball State stops the streak,” Hanson said with a laugh. “That was the best part about it.”
Ohio State has won 99 of 118 sets during the streak and now goes after Loyola’s 40-match run accomplished in 2014-15.
Ball State led 21-16 in the first set but Johnson and Szerszen led the Buckeyes back into it. Johnson, who had 11 kills in 13 errorless swings in the set, tied it at 22.
“He had four hands in front of him a lot of times and he still delivered the mail for us,” Hanson said.
Before it was over Szerszen had three of his six kills in the set.
“We weren’t that sharp in that first set,” Hanson admitted. “We gave away a lot of easy points and didn’t pass the ball very well and if weren’t for Miles in terms of killing the ball in any and all situations, I think Ball State would have beat us and probably should have beaten us.”
Ball State, which fell to 8-2, got 14 kills from Matt Szews, who hit .333 and had four digs and the Cardinals’ only ace. Brendan Surane added 11 kills and hit .474.
“We had our defense try to slow them down, and they were just too good,” Ball State coach Joel Walton said. “We did everything we could, and they still found holes in our blocks. The credit goes to Ohio State.”
Matt Walsh had nine kills and hit .500 but he and Szews had three each of their team’s eight service errors.
“The lesson for our guys is you just can’t relax,” said Walton, whose Cardinals led 13-9 in the third set and were tied as late as 19-19. “Just because we played close in game one doesn’t mean game two is going to be easy. We have to maintain the same kind of focus, the same kind of determination through the entire match.”
Ball State plays again Saturday when McKendree visits Muncie, while Ohio State goes to Fort Wayne. Don’t expect a letdown from the Buckeyes, who last weekend beat Barton and Long Beach at home, took Monday off.
“And then Tuesday we just had a horrific practice,” Hanson said. “And I looked at them and I thought what’s going on. And it dawned on me that was the time when the first set of mid-terms hit. I asked them how many guys are taking mid-terms and literally every hand went up. And I thought, here we go again.
“But I told them it’s a tough week and we’ve got to deal with it and we’ve got to get ready for Thursday.”
The game was originally scheduled for Friday, Hanson said, but was moved to accommodate Ball State basketball, which plays host to Buffalo on ESPNU.
“Our guys are really resilient,” Hanson said. “They don’t think too far ahead, they don’t let things worry ‘em. They just put on the uniform and go out and play. Take care of business and move on.”
Long Beach State sweeps Pepperdine: Andrew Whitt had the best match of his career as the outside hitter had a personal-best 11 kills, hit .391, and added 10 digs and two blocks as the Beach beat the visiting Waves 25-20, 25-17, 25-21.
It left Long Beach 8-2 overall and 4-1 in the MPSF, while Pepperdine fell to 4-3, 2-2.
Sophomore Kyle Ensing led Long Beach with 15 kills, hitting .462. He also had six digs, two blocks and one of his team’s four aces. TJ DeFalco had 12 kills, hit .348, five digs and one of those aces.
Pepperdine’s David Wieczorek led his team with 13 kills, hitting .312, and two blocks. Michael Wexter added seven kills and led with eight digs.
NJIT, Sacred Heart get victories: Jabarry Goodridge had 17 kills to lead NJIT at Rutgers-Newark 25-16, 25-21, 25-19. It left the Highlanders 4-4. Raymond Kowalski added eight kills and Brad Thele had seven. Rutgers-Newark is 1-6.
Sacred Heart beat visiting Alderson Broaddus 25-18, 25-20, 25-18 behind Chris DeLucie’s 15 kills. He also had seven digs and two blocks. Taylor Bloomquist had six kills, hit .750, and had five blocks, two solo.
Sacred Heart is 4-1, while Alderson Broaddus is 0-6.