Junior setter Sanil Thomas sets the ball during the second set of No. 3 Ohio State’s match against No. 8 Penn State on Jan. 28, 2018 in St. John Arena. The Buckeyes defeated the Nittany Lions in straight sets (25-19, 25-15, 25-17) to pick up their fifth win of the season. Credit: Aliyyah Jackson | Senior Reporter

The fifth-ranked Ohio State men’s volleyball team (7-2) has rattled off four straight-set wins in a row after a 3-2 start. The Buckeyes will look for two more sweeps in the opening weekend of MIVA play against conference rivals Ball State (5-5) and No. 14 Fort Wayne (8-1) Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

“Ball State, because of the longer history, I think are going to be a little more fired up to beat us and I think Fort Wayne is going to be eager to get on the winning track against good teams that they didn’t get a chance to do that last year,” Ohio State head coach Pete Hanson said. “I expect that they’re both going to be highly motivated for different reasons.”

Hanson said he hopes the team is able to carry its strong blocking, offense and serving from last weekend’s matches against Charleston and George Mason.

Ball State

The Buckeyes and the Cardinals were two of the first programs to join the MIVA at its founding in 1961 and, as a result, have a bitter, long-standing rivalry.

During the 2017 season, Ohio State beat Ball State in three straight sets for its 33rd-straight win to break its previous record of 32-straight wins set in 1969. The team’s previous loss before the win streak came in a match versus Ball State during the 2016 season, almost two years ago.

Earlier in the season, Hanson said Ohio State’s matchup against the Cardinals is one of the three most important games of the year.

In preparation, Hanson said he and the other coaches have talked to the team about being patient with transitions and challenging the Cardinals with an aggressive offense.

“Ball State is typically a very good defensive team, blocking and digging,” Hanson said. “They make you extend rallies and have to play good, long rallies where you have to be good in transition and you’ve got to make pretty good swings offensively.”

Buckeye senior outside hitter Nicolas Szerszen also suggested the Cardinals’ defense might pose a challenge.

“I would say Ball State is always a pretty hard team to play against because they have an atypical style of play where they dig a lot of balls, and they don’t seem really efficient,” Szerszen said. “But at the end of the day the score is always tight.”

Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne is bouncing back from a difficult 2017 season in which the Mastodons won just five games and suffered multiple major injuries.

“Things just kind of went sideways for them through no fault of their own, and now that they’re healthy, they’ve won,” Hanson said.

The Mastodons started 2018 with an eight-match winning streak before losing to No. 10 Penn State last weekend.

Hanson expects Fort Wayne to have a lot of emotion in its play as it continues to bounce back with a surprisingly successful season.

“For us I think it’s about us managing our emotions and making sure we’re ready to play a team that’s looking to upset us on our home floor,” he said.