The third-seeded Ohio State men’s volleyball team (25-6) defeated second-seeded Penn State to advance to the NCAA Championship finals.
The Buckeyes took down the host Nittany Lions, 3-1, and are set to face fourth-seeded California-Santa Barbara (18-14) in the finals at 7 p.m. Saturday.
UCSB advanced to the finals after defeating top-seeded USC, 3-1 (29-27, 26-24, 25-15, 25-18), in Thursday’s first semifinal match.
The Gauchos have never lost to OSU in program history, and are led by All-American hitter Jeff Menzel. Menzel had 13 kills in the win against USC, and Dylan Davis set an NCAA Tournament record with an .882 hitting percentage.
“I think we just have to, again, do what we do,” OSU coach Pete Hanson said in a press conference Thursday.
Hanson said he is confident in the team’s blocking, but hopes the serving is better.
“I don’t know if you can stop a superstar,” Hanson said. “Maybe you can control him, and maybe you can limit what the other guys do.”
The win marked the third straight time in OSU’s history that the team had advanced this far.
Although the Buckeyes were able to take the match in four sets, and arguably outplayed the Nittany Lions in most categories, PSU was able to stay in just about every set.
“We just weren’t quite as crisp as we should have been or would have liked to have been in transition,” Hanson said.
For the second straight match, redshirt senior John Klanac and junior Shawn Sangrey led the Buckeyes offensively. Klanac had 18.5 points and 16 kills, while Sangrey added 18 points and 15 kills. Redshirt senior Steven Kehoe led the match with 51 assists, the most he has had in this postseason.
“I thought we played pretty unselfish volleyball,” Kehoe said. “When we play together it’s a lot of fun and we can play really good volleyball.”
OSU led the whole way in the first set. It got off to an early 4-0 lead, but the turning point came with the match at 15-13. The Scarlet and Gray won four straight points on a kill by Klanac, and three PSU errors, which put the set out of reach.
Set two came down to the wire. The teams were deadlocked several times, and were tied at 24 at the end of the set. The Buckeyes made two straight errors to give the Nittany Lions their first win, tying the match at one game apiece.
PSU took the first point of the third set, and it was a while before it would have the lead again. The score was tied late in the set with scores knotted up at 16 and 17. The Nittany Lions took an 18-17 lead on a kill by Edgardo Goas, but OSU quickly responded with a kill of its own by Klanac to tie the set again at 18.
The Buckeyes won two of the next three points, but put the set away with an ace serve from Klanac to make the score 23-20. Redshirt senior Kevin Heine’s set-ending kill (25-22) gave OSU a 2-1 advantage in the match.
The Nittany Lions had an early 9-7 lead in the fourth set. After the score was tied at 13, OSU finally took its first lead of the match and extended it to 15-13.
The Scarlet and Gray led by as many as three points (19-16), but PSU would not go down easy. The Nittany Lions won four of the next five points to tie the set at 20, and took a 21-20 lead after a key block.
Both teams traded points to tie the set again at 22, but OSU won the next two points, putting it a point away from the national title match. PSU held on and added one more point, but a kill by Sangrey gave the Scarlet and Gray the match and a ticket to the NCAA finals.
“We stayed with our game plan,” Sangrey said. “We knew we had to get out on (Joe) Sunder. He was a big gun. We were disciplined.”
Outside hitter Joe Sunder had a match-high 19.5 points and added 18 kills.