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Men’s volleyball: Two California teams come to Columbus to face top-ranked Buckeyes

Then-junior outside hitter Gabriel Domecus (7) during a match against Ball State on Feb. 6 at St. John Arena. OSU lost 3-2. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

Ohio State’s top-ranked men’s volleyball team (18-0, 8-0 MIVA) takes on two Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opponents in University of California, San Diego (5-13, 2-11 MPSF) and No. 6 University of California, Irvine (13-6, 9-5 MPSF).

The Buckeyes head into the weekend riding a 41-match win streak. UC San Diego and UC Irvine come out of one of the most competitive volleyball conferences in the country with 10 of the 12 teams ranked in the top 15 nationally.

“MPSF always says that they’re the best conference,” said sophomore setter Sanil Thomas. “We want to kind of put them in their place a little bit, so it’s going to be fun.”

UC San Diego

On Friday, the UC San Diego Tritons face OSU after UC Irvine takes on No. 12 Ball State in back-to-back games in St. John Arena. The last time the Buckeyes and the Tritons met was in 2011, when the Tritons won in a four-set match in California, but the Buckeyes hold the all-time series 2-1.

After having a four-day break from volleyball, the Buckeyes will hope to break its five-match second set losing streak when it takes on the Tritons on Friday. Eight of 10 total sets lost this season have come in the second set for OSU.

“If we’re looking ahead to the Saturday match and we don’t take care of business on Friday, then we haven’t done ourselves justice,” said OSU head coach Pete Hanson. “I would like to think that [the OSU players] would have a little more pep in their step so to speak come Friday and Saturday.”

The Tritons rank in the top 20 in blocks per set nationally with 2.11 per set. Junior opposite Tanner Syftestad lead the team with 43 total blocks including four solo stuffs. Freshman libero Ryan Lew has 109 digs to lead the Tritons receiving at a rate of .928.

UC Irvine

On Saturday, OSU and Ball State swap opponents, with the Buckeyes taking on the UC Irvine Anteaters. The trip to Columbus will be the Anteaters’ first, where they will hope to improve their record against the Buckeyes to 7-4. The last time the teams met was at Long Beach State University last season, where the Buckeyes earned a win in four sets.

Senior libero Gabriel Domecus leads the Buckeyes in digs with 125 this season. His 743 career digs sit in the No. 2 spot in school history, tied with Conor Martin from the 2005-2008 seasons. Senior outside hitter Nicolas Szerszen is not too far behind Domecus this season, tallying a total of 102 through 18 matches.

“I think that when we play our game we’re very hard to beat, very tough to beat,” Thomas said. “It’s all about us bringing our best game, holding ourselves to a higher standard.”

The Anteaters rank sixth nationally with 12 assists per set. Senior opposite Michael Saeta leads the team with 619 assists this season. Senior opposite Tamir Hershko is the go-to target for Saeta with 3.03 kills per set, the team’s best.

The two matches this weekend will put Hanson within two of 1,000 career matches in his three-plus decades as the coach of the Buckeyes. Under his guidance, the program has gone 663-333 (.667) overall and 288-90 (.762) in Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association conference play.

OSU faces UC San Diego on Friday at 7 p.m. and UC Irvine on Saturday at 7 p.m., both in St. John Arena.

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