Brittany Schock / Asst. photo editor
The Ohio State men’s volleyball team might be the defending national champions, but captains and coaches said they are grappling with consistency 17 matches into the 2011-12 season.
The No. 9-ranked Buckeyes split the weekend’s two conference matches on the road at Lewis and Loyola University Chicago, adding a victory against the Loyola Ramblers to improve their record to 12-5 on the season.
“We did well after we struggled with a few things against Lewis on Thursday,” redshirt freshman setter Peter Heinen said. “We watched film and we worked on it and we did a good job fixing what we needed to fix.”
Senior opposite Shawn Sangrey and senior outside hitter Mik Berzins tallied a combined 27 kills Saturday to lead the team offensively at Loyola.
Defensively, Heinen delivered 37 assists, while redshirt junior middle blocker John Tholen posted a match-high eight blocks.
OSU trailed the Ramblers in the first set until the score tied at seven. A Tholen block and a Berzins kill started to build a lead that Loyola-Chicago could not recover from, and the Buckeyes took the set 25-18.
They dominated the second set, 25-9, after opening on a five-point drive.
Set three began much like the first. When the score tied again at seven, another five-point run put OSU ahead.
Berzins posted two more kills and Tholen added a final block to close the set and match 25-19.
The Buckeyes kept a manageable amount of errors at 17, the least amount of errors committed by the team in any match this season.
Sangrey said that after Thursday’s 3-1 loss at No. 7-ranked Lewis, the team was more “poised” heading into Chicago.
“(Lewis) had a blackout going for the fans so they were pretty pumped up for us,” Sangrey said. “Unfortunately we didn’t complete what we wanted to, but Saturday night at Loyola, that was very good.”
A rowdy Flyer crowd might have shaken the Buckeyes’ composure. The compilation of 39 errors was a major detriment to OSU’s performance.
A strong first set gave the Buckeyes an early advantage, 25-15.
After that, Lewis’ redshirt junior outside hitter Jay Petty became an offensive force to reckon with. Petty posted a match-high 23 kills, tallying almost as many as Sangrey and Berzins combined.
“We didn’t do a good job of defending Jay Petty,” said coach Pete Hanson. “We talked about him and talked about him, but we couldn’t get guys in position to slow him down.”
The second set tied at 14 on a service ace from senior outside hitter Anthony Hock. The Flyers pulled ahead, but OSU was able to keep it close until Petty delivered back-to-back kills to take a five-point lead late in the set.
Lewis held onto the lead to take set two, 25-21.
The Flyers the held their service errors down to two in the final two sets.
“We made too many bad service errors against Lewis and that allowed them to build some momentum,” Hanson said.
The third and fourth sets both began with a 4-1 lead against OSU and ended with a 25-18 victory in favor of the home team.
Lewis handed OSU its first Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association loss of the season, making them 3-1 in conference play. The Flyers were also the only MIVA team to defeat the Buckeyes in their national championship season last year.
“We started so strong against Lewis and everything was going well for us,” Heinen said. “Then our competition level lowered and we got a little comfortable with where we were.”
Although the Buckeyes are preparing to face two non-conference teams, Hanson said the pressure is still on to stay consistent by minimizing their errors.
“We want to keep improving,” Hanson said. “We want to use this last weekend as a building block and say, ‘OK, we didn’t do some things well on Thursday. We can improve upon them.'”
OSU continues its time on the road with Saint Francis (8-8) in Loretto, Pa., Friday and No. 5-ranked Penn State (12-1) Saturday. Both matches are set to begin at 7 p.m.