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Men’s Volleyball: Back-to-back NCAA champ Ohio State prepares to face back-to-back runner-up BYU

Then-junior outside hitter Nicolas Szerszen serves the ball in the 2017 NCAA tournament. Credit: Ashley Nelson | Station Manager

The No. 1 Ohio State men’s volleyball team will face a familiar foe on Saturday: No. 7 BYU.

The Buckeyes (1-0) beat the Cougars (1-1) in back-to-back national championship games, which means St. John Arena could have a tournament-like feel at 7 p.m. Saturday when the two teams take the court.

The Buckeyes also will welcome Stanford (0-3) to Columbus for a 7 p.m. contest Friday.

In addition to being national championship runner-ups, the Cougars have a powerful offense led by three seniors — outside attacker Brenden Sander, middle blocker Price Jarman and setter Leo Durkin — who were named to the preseason All-American team.

Sophomore outside hitter Storm Fa’agata-Tufuga (28 kills, .333 hitting percentage in first match of season) and freshman opposite hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez (35 kills, .288 hitting percentage in first match of season) also will pose a challenge for the Buckeyes.

Redshirt junior middle blocker Blake Leeson believes his team’s match against BYU will be a necessary early test.

“Right now, in the season, we aren’t as ready as we will be by the end of the year,” he said. “We still have a lot of kinks to work out at different positions… I’m looking forward to this weekend to see where we match up against some of the top teams in the country.”

Ohio State senior outside hitter Nicolas Szerszen, the Volleyball Magazine National Player of the Year in both 2016 and 2017, jump-started his final collegiate season with the most votes for the preseason All-American team. He said he is excited to play against BYU in a nonchampionship setting for the first time.

“They’re more of a physical team, where we’re more a technical team,” Szerszen said. “We still have to improve in a lot of technical components of our game … They might be more ready than us right now, but we’ll just see how it goes, give it our best, and play hard.”

With two players named preseason All-Americans, Stanford also might be a source of stiff competition for the Buckeyes on Friday night. First-team All-American libero Evan Enriques and second-team All-American middle blocker Kevin Rakestraw might prove a difficult pair for the Buckeyes to deal with if Enriques is able to funnel Buckeye serves and attacks to Stanford’s setter for in-system attacks down the middle by Rakestraw.

Stanford began the season ranked No. 10, but dropped out of the rankings after three losses to begin the year.

“As we’ve watched some film and prepared our scout report, it looks like they had a couple of freshmen playing on the floor … At this stage of the season, it’s a learning process,” Ohio State head coach Pete Hanson said.

Stanford and BYU aren’t the only teams with young players. After graduating four starters after the 2017 season, Szerszen, Leeson and senior outside hitter Maxime Hervoir are a few of the leading figures on an otherwise young Ohio State team.

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