The National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship trophy doesn’t have to relocate.
No. 1 Ohio State, playing at home in front of 8,205 fans at St. John’s Arena in Columbus, Ohio, secured its second straight national crown with a 25-19, 25-20, 25-22 victory Saturday over BYU.
It was Ohio State’s third NCAA title since 2011 and the Buckeyes represent the fourth NCAA title in a row won by teams from the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association and fifth in seven years.
Ohio State also is the third straight school to win back-to-back titles, joining the MIVA’s Loyola (2014-2015) and UC Irvine of the MPSF (2012-2013).
“It’s incredibly special, especially for the seniors,” said Ohio State senior setter Christy Blough. “I don’t think we can go out on a better note than that. Doing it in front of this crowd was pretty amazing.”
Ohio State finished the season 32-2. BYU, which also lost to Ohio State in the 2016 finale at Penn State, ended 26-5.
“The first thing we need to talk about is the program of BYU,” said Ohio State coach Pete Hanson. “What a wonderful program they have. It takes a lot to get to this point in this tournament and clearly they know how to work at it. We beat a very good volleyball team. Hats off to (coach) Shawn Olmstead’s staff and all his players. It was a good match for the Buckeyes. To do what we did back to back is pretty darned special for this group of young men.”
Ohio State’s Nicolas Szerszen was named tournament most outstanding player. He was joined on the all-NCAA tournament team by teammates Christy Blough, Driss Guessous, Maxime Hervoir and Blake Leeson. BYU’s Brenden Sander and Hawaii’s Stijn van Tilburg also made the team.
“Before the tournament started, coach Hanson talked about each game that we progress to needs to be our best game,” said Blough. “Without a doubt this was our best game of the season. It makes it easy when the passers are passing well. It puts a lot of pressure on the other team. We also swung out of some bad situations. This was our best performance of the season.”
And it was a performance that occurred in front of a huge Ohio State fan turnout.
“The second thing we need to acknowledge is Buckeye Nation,” said Hanson. “They were off the charts tonight. Eight thousand people here to watch these guys play volleyball has never happened before in this community. The student-athletes on both sides deserved that. I’m so happy for them that they got to experience this environment.”
Szerszen, the 2016 AVCA national player of the year, had 16 kills, hit .480 and had eight digs for the Buckeyes against BYU. He was one of four Ohio State players to hit .400 or better.
“It helps with 6,000 people cheering for you in the gym,” said Szerszen, estimating the number of Ohio State fans in the building. “When you hear all the people, you want to do it for them because they came out to see us play.”
Szerszen said his team was focused in the finale.
“Throughout the season we had two matches we lost due to a lack of focus or relaxing,” he said. “I think the last match was the one we had to push. We had to finish it. We can never release the focus. We had to stay focused the whole game and push as hard as we can.”
Hervoir had 12 points, including 10 kills and four block assists. He also hit .471 on 17 swings.
Ohio State hit only .148 in the opener, but then hit .448 and .480 the rest of the way. Blough registered 35 assists in the contest.
The Buckeyes trailed 7-6 in the first set, but went on a 12-3 run and pulled away. Miles Johnson had six kills for Ohio State in the second set, while Hervoir and Szerszen each had four kills in the frame. Ohio State never trailed in the second set.
In the finale it was all Szerszen who had nine kills in 12 attempts, while Hervoir had four kills on five swings. BYU hit .455 in the third set. Szerszen put down a kill on match point.
Jake Langlois led BYU with eight kills, while Sander had seven kills and Tim Dobbert had five. BYU hit .243. Leo Durkin dished out 24 assists, while Ben Patch had three aces. Durkin and Patch each had four digs.
“Congratulations to Ohio State on an outstanding season and a great performance tonight,” said BYU’s Olmstead. “They definitely played a better volleyball match than we did tonight.
“It’s tough. I feel for our guys. I wish it was a different result. It’s life and it’s sport and those things are hard at times. How we handle those losses will show a lot about us and each one of these young men. They stayed out there and shook Ohio State’s hand and acknowledged the champions tonight and that was Ohio State.”
Durkin said Ohio State excelled in getting the Cougars off the net.
“They do a great job serving the ball hard and in seams,” he said. “Most of the time when we were on the net we were siding out at a high efficiency. It was a matter of us being on the net more.”
Durkin was proud of how his team competed until the end.
“The guys weren’t rattled,” he said. “We fought to the end. They did a great job. It sucks. You want opportunities. We were given great opportunities collectively as a group and we weren’t able to capitalize on them and stop them.”
BYU middle blocker Price Jarman added: “Ohio State is a tough team. They have really good players at different positions. We had to make choices on who to defend and try to take away.”
Jarman reflected on playing Ohio State for the second year in a row.
“They were pretty good last year too,” he said. “Last year was heartbreaking. We went in last year if we played our best and we would be the best team. That wasn’t the case. We focused this year on trying to be better. We kept them off the net a lot more this year than last year, but they also got even better at serving. It’s impressive and you respect their ability to do that and I don’t want to say this one stings less than last year. We felt more like underdogs coming into this one knowing how good they are and now we both get to stick around.
“Going forward we figured out we have to get a lot better at serving and now we have to get better at passing and maybe next year with both of those things figured out we’ll be OK.”
Of note, Ohio State assistant coach Kevin Burch has won an NCAA title in seven consecutive years. Burch also was part of the 2011 Ohio State team that won the NCAA title, was part of the Springfield College teams in 2012 and 2014 that won NCAA Division III titles, was part of the UC Irvine staff when the Anteaters won the title in 2013 and was part of the Penn State women’s staff when the Nittany Lions won the 2015 crown.
Also, in the postseason involving the four conference and NCAA tournament, there were only four instances in which a lower-seeded team won a match and in all four cases a No. 3 beat a No. 2. That included BYU beating Long Beach State in the semifinals.