In the No. 1 Ohio State men’s volleyball team’s journey to rewrite the record books, all roads lead through No. 12 Ball State.
When the Ohio State men’s volleyball team lost in five sets on Feb. 6, 2016, no one thought much of it. It was a close-fought match between two top 15 opponents.
That was it.
At that point, not many thought OSU would win the national championship. Even fewer thought that the Buckeyes would threaten a school record that has stood for almost half a century.
On Thursday in Muncie, Indiana, No. 1 OSU goes for win No. 33 to set the longest win streak in program history when it takes on No. 12 Ball State — the same team that gave the Buckeyes their last defeat.
Ball State and OSU’s rivalry goes back to the creation of the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association. The two teams are the only two that still exist from the beginning of the conference. Ironically enough, after going 24-0 in the 1969 season and 8-0 to start the 1970 season, the Buckeyes were defeated by the Cardinals to end their 32-win streak.
“When you’ve got that much history, there’s a rivalry there for sure, naturally,” said OSU coach Pete Hanson. “Ball State — I’m sure they circle the Ohio State matches on their calendar every year and I think our guys do too.”
OSU comes into the matchup against Ball State with 15 wins over opponents ranked in the top 12 nationally, with six of those wins over teams in the top 5. In this season alone, the Buckeyes have topped teams currently ranked No. 2, No. 3, No. 7 and No. 15 in the country.
Hanson credits the team’s success and win streak to the team’s growing maturity over the past two seasons.
“What I saw — after that loss to Ball State — I saw somewhat of a renewed commitment by a lot of those older guys — by Gabriel, Miles, Christy — to say we didn’t like this feeling and we’re going to work very hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Hanson said. “Just through their efforts every day in practice and in the weight room, how they approach matches, the attention to detail on the game plan — those are things veterans do that kind of go unnoticed by, as a coaching staff you notice them.”
Offensively, OSU will need continued attacking success from team leaders, senior opposite hitter Miles Johnson and senior outside hitter Nicolas Szerszen, to overcome the highly ranked blocking efforts from Ball State’s junior middle hitter Matt Walsh. Walsh ranks second nationally in blocks per set with 1.29.
In last season’s losing affair, the Buckeyes won the first two sets by a combined 20 points, only to lose the match in the fifth set, 16-14.
“We all looked at that loss and obviously, no one liked it,” Johnson said. “I think that prior to that loss we were on a good winning streak and then that happened. So, then we had to figure out ways where that wouldn’t happen again.”
The team found ways to prevent losses over the 23-game win streak, which contained an avenged win against Ball State as well as MIVA and NCAA titles, to close out the 2016 season.
In addition to tying the school record for consecutive wins, two other Buckeyes etched their names in school history as both Johnson and Szerszen sit atop the career serving aces list. They are tied at 124.
The Buckeyes will be looking to keep make school history against Ball State on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Worthen Arena.