The top-ranked Ohio State men’s volleyball team will attempt to capture its third national championship in six seasons when the NCAA tournament begins in April.
If the Buckeyes do manage to repeat as national champions, it’ll be due in no small part to the play of two French teammates — junior outside hitters Nicolas Szerszen and Maxime Hervoir, who have made large contributions to the team’s 23-1 record in 2017.
Both Szerszen and Hervoir were born in France and even competed against each other overseas prior to their careers at OSU.
They didn’t know one another very well then, but that’d soon change when Szerszen decided to take his talents to the Buckeye State in 2015.
“Even though we played each other a couple times in France, we weren’t that close before Maxime came here,” Szerszen said. “Since he’s been here, we’ve obviously gotten closer. On the court, we view each other as regular teammates. Off the court, though, we understand each other better, because we understand our culture.”
Before Hervoir’s arrival in August 2016, Szerszen had already exceeded any and all expectations at OSU. On top of winning a national championship last year, Szerszen was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Year, the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Player of the Year, and the MIVA tournament MVP.
He also set all-time OSU records with 63 total service aces and 0.42 aces per set average.
None of that would’ve been possible, though, without the help of his sister, Anna.
“My parents always told me that I have to get my degree first, before playing volleyball,” Szerszen said. “So, I was basically looking for both, and I honestly just followed my sister’s footsteps. She played here about 10 years ago and suggested OSU to me.”
While he’s been living on campus for only about eight months, Hervoir’s adjusted pretty quickly. The two-time French Cup winner has Szerszen to thank, who’s playing the same role his sister once did.
“I asked him tons of questions before coming here,” Hervoir said. “We talked a lot, and he helped me a lot in deciding whether I should go to OSU or not. Living in France, you’re kind of in the dark, because I had no idea how it was at OSU.”
Being from the same country, a closer connection seamlessly formed between the two in what is now their home away from home.
“I think there’s a special relationship there with us being from the same country,” Hervoir said. “I try to express most things the best way I can, but it’s always great to have someone to talk to in French if I want to fully express myself. He’s here for me and helps me a lot.”
Hervoir and Szerszen were a part of a historic run that recently came to an end at the hands of UC Irvine, after recording 42 straight wins, spanning 399 days.
Coach Pete Hanson said the importance of the two outside hitters reaches beyond the volleyball court.
“Both Nicolas and Maxime are vitally important to our team’s title chances,” Hanson said. “They’re two of our primary passers that help our offense excel. Nicolas and Max bring a level of maturity and stability to our team that will be essential to have a chance to repeat as national champions.”
Szerszen said he understands that in order to bring home another national title, the team will have to balance out the lows and highs every season holds.
“We’ve started pretty well and I hope we keep going like this,” Szerszen said. “We’ll definitely face some lows, and we won’t win every game, but we know it’s not going to be easy every time. The goal is to win another national championship, so hopefully we’ll be back for the final four.”
The Buckeyes will put their four-game winning streak, and No. 1 ranking, on the line at Penn State on Tuesday.