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Men’s Volleyball: Ohio State beats King in NCAA tournament play-in game in straight sets

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

The No. 6 Ohio State men’s volleyball team will head to Los Angeles in its continued run at a three-peat after taking out King University 3-0 in the NCAA tournament play-in game. Ohio State will next face UC Irvine in the NCAA quarterfinals.

Ohio State senior outside hitter Nicolas Szerszen led the match with 14 kills and his teammate, junior setter Sanil Thomas, had a match-high 39 assists.

Ohio State head coach Pete Hanson said he expected his team to continue its 2018 success at home after the Buckeyes finished the year with a 14-1 record at home.

“We’ve been really good in St. John Arena for the last three years and having the leadership of Nic Szerszen, of Maxime Hervoir, Blake Leeson, Sanil Thomas. They all played a great match tonight,” Hanson said. “I felt pretty comfortable that we would come out of this thing OK.”

The Tornado suffered an emphatic loss to the Buckeyes in the first set, trailing by 12 points when Ohio State’s senior outside hitter Maxime Hervoir nailed the winning kill, picking up a 25-13 win.

Ohio State scored the first point and carried an eight-serve run with Thomas. Thomas also did his fair share in the back row, contributing four of the Buckeyes’ five digs.

King struggled to keep up with the Ohio State, scoring only seven kills — fewer than half of the Buckeyes — and matching those kills with seven attacking errors, resulting in a hitting percentage of .000.

King kept up with the Buckeyes for the majority of the second set. Tornado senior outside hitter Jeff Sprayberry kept up with Ohio State’s top attackers with five kills in the second set. Tornado senior opposite Kiel Bell added four kills.

Ohio State did not dominate the second set as much as the first, giving away a total of 11 points through service, attacking and blocking errors. The Buckeyes managed to secure the narrow 25-23 win to take a 2-0 lead in the match.

Hanson said his team started to struggle defensively when King found its offensive rhythm in the second set.

“I was a little disappointed with our defensive effort in set number two,” Hanson said. “I thought we just kind of lost track of what we were supposed to do defensively, blocking and playing defense, and a few too many service errors that led into them getting some rhythm offensively.”

Szerszen said the second set served as a lesson moving forward into the tournament.

“We didn’t really gauge how well they would play so we came out pretty strong the first set and had a pretty good score,” said Szerszen. “Usually when that happens we tend to relax a little bit, be on our heels and kind of try to let it happen, and it proved to us that we cannot do that anymore.”

Ohio State turned its focus to the next round after a seven-point win in the third set to sweet King. King maintained its second-set performance, but the Buckeyes had four fewer errors than in their previous set.

The Thunder held its own until the two teams were tied at 11. Ohio State went on a three-point run followed by eight more points in a span of 15 plays to take a 22-15 lead. Sprayberry and Bell carried their offensive success over from the second set to the third, but it wasn’t enough to stay on Ohio State’s heels with King falling 25-18 in the game’s final set.

Ohio State will next play UC Irvine at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

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