Ohio State men’s volleyball team members — senior setter Christy Blough, junior outside hitter Nicolas Szerszen and senior opposite hitter Miles Johnson — walked on the stage for the postgame press conference with their individual national championship trophies in hand and parts of the net draped around their necks, failing to describe what had just transpired on the court.
OSU coach Pete Hanson was asked if he could put into words what his players couldn’t. He responded, “I’ll try.”
“I think that before the tournament started, coach Hanson talked about each game we progress needs to be our best game,” Blough said. “And I think without a doubt, this was our best game this season.”
OSU (32-2) won the 2017 NCAA Men’s Volleyball National Championship over BYU (26-5) in three sets Saturday night at St. John Arena, in front of a record crowd of 8,205 fans.
It’s the program’s second consecutive national title and third overall.
Szerszen led the Buckeyes with 16 kills, Johnson added 9 and junior outside hitter Maxime Hervoir had 10 in their 25-19, 25-20, 25-22 victory past the Cougars, who finished as runner-ups for the second straight season to OSU.
OSU lit a spark early winning the first three points of the match, but BYU quickly erased that deficit as they took a 7-6 lead. It wasn’t until Blough toed the service line with the set tied at eight that he buried two straight service aces and gave OSU a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
From there on, the Buckeye defense took control with the predominantly scarlet-and-gray crowd behind it on each point.
“You can’t quantify that. That (crowd) was unbelievable,” Hanson said. “That’s the roughest spot to be in is when you’re in a national championship match and you’re down and the team that’s been hunting for you for 365 days is coming at you.”
OSU led by as much as eight before winning the set, 25-19.
The Buckeyes only hit .148 as a team in the opening frame, but the men up front made it difficult for the BYU squad to find holes in their defense. OSU forced nine hitting errors in the first set and 16 for the game.
“Our middles were really effective in closing and setting up a pretty good block and making those hitters hit hard shot,” Johnson said. “And I think that’s why that there was so many errors.”
The Cougars went back and forth with the Buckeyes through the first 16 points of the set. Johnson and Hervoir had back-to-back kills to stretch the lead to 11-7.
OSU continued to put its foot on the pedal after the media timeout, ripping off three straight points to take an 18-11 lead. The Buckeyes closed the set with a kill from Blough and a hitting error by BYU opposite hitter Jake Langlois.
The team had 16 kills and three errors on 29 swings (.448) in the second. Johnson led the way with six kills.
BYU took an early 3-1 lead in the final set, but as they have done all season, the Buckeyes battled back with Szerszen leading the charge. The junior from France had nine kills in the final set with just one error.
Blough said that Szerszen had no business hitting a few of the balls he set to him, but that having a gifted athlete like Szerszen attack the net when the team needs a play is what made this team the undisputed champs.
“All throughout the season, we had two games that we lost and those were due to a lack of focus or relaxing,” Szerszen said. “And I think the last (set) was the one we had to push because we had to finish it because (losing focus) could happen at any time.”
On the final play, Blough received the pass from Szerszen and had no doubt he would put the championship point on the hand of the tournament’s most outstanding player.
“For us seniors, I really don’t think we could go out on a better note than that,” Blough said. “Kind of feel bad for Nic (who has one more year of eligibility) because I don’t think it’s going to get much better than this.”