Coming in with a hot start, the Ohio State men’s volleyball team pulled a quick 3-0 victory over No. 14 Grand Canyon in the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association conference championship to clinch a bid into the NCAA tournament.
The Buckeyes (30-2, 17-0 MIVA) dropped Grand Canyon to 19-11 overall and 11-6 in the conference. OSU paved the way through the first set (25-16) and dominated in the third (25-11), but they felt resistance in the second set from Grand Canyon (19-11, 11-6 MIVA) as the score went back-and-forth with OSU eventually winning the set 25-22.
“We kind of got out of a rhythm, and you’ve got to work your way back into it,” said OSU coach Pete Hanson. “Luckily we were able to work our way back into it quick enough to where we didn’t get behind by many and we were able to get back into it faster.”
In the first set, OSU collectively rattled off a strong start to the match. Senior middle blocker Driss Guessous, junior outside hitter Nicolas Szerszen and junior outside hitter Maxime Hervoir all posted four kills to contribute to a 17-kill total, compared to the 10 Grand Canyon kills in the first set. The Buckeyes saw two errors while Grand Canyon had five. Senior Christy Blough was also a major player to watch with 14 assists to help set the Buckeyes into a distant lead.
“Christy played well, he set well,” said senior opposite hitter Miles Johnson. “Things ran smooth when we needed it too, so it was big.”
OSU saw a much closer game as they moved to the next set. The Antelopes kept the Buckeyes on their heels, tying the game six times through the set before gaining their first lead of the night when pulling ahead 16-15. The Antelopes kept the lead for seven passes of the game. Grand Canyon also posted zero errors in the second set compared to OSU’s four.
However, the Lopes run ended when the Buckeyes came back with a more aggressive tactic.
“I think what happened then is you saw some of our veteran guys, I think Szers (Nicolas Szerszen) and Miles (Johnson) and Christy (Blough) kind of just decided, ‘Hey, we need to make a couple of plays here. We’ve kind of got to get the momentum back on our side.’ And they did,” Hanson said.
Johnson led the Buckeyes out of the rough patch by burying five kills in the second set.
“Miles killed a few balls down the stretch, and I think that was kind of the key part of the match,” Hanson said “We were able to get the momentum back on our side, kind of get through those passing problems and really not give them any life.”
Johnson had a nine-consecutive serve run in the third set to put the Buckeyes in a substantial 12-3 lead.
“I definitely set into a rhythm, and it helped that a bunch of Grand Canyon fans behind were kind of trying to heckle (me),” Johnson said. “I kind of just fed off of that energy. But, yeah, I was just staying aggressive with it and doing what we’ve practiced.”
Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Blake Leeson, Blough and Hervoir all displayed strong performances to pull together a total of 10 block assists in the third set. Playing strong defense, the three created a nearly impenetrable wall against the Lopes.
Johnson finished the game with a final kill to end 25-11 for the set and win the third match point.
The Buckeyes had a final tally of 40 kills with a .464 percent success rate. Johnson led the pack with 11 total kills, nine kills each came from Szerszen and Hervoir, and Guessous made seven total kills with a personal 100 percent success rate through the match.
Grand Canyon finished the match with 24 kills, and trailed OSU 23-20 in digs.
The Buckeyes saw Grand Canyon earlier in the season, but the two matches they played had a thinner-margin of victory — 3-1 and 3-2. The victory for OSU over the Lopes was a sweet one.
“For me, the best thing was winning against that specific team,” Johnson said. “I think that was the highlight of the year so far. When we played at their place, it was just, I don’t know how to describe it without cussing, but it was kind of a horrible time. It was huge to win in 3-0 at home in the MIVA championship.”
The Buckeyes will now prepare for their semifinal match against the winner of a play-in match on May 4.