The Ohio State men’s volleyball team clinched a third MIVA tournament title Saturday night in front of 1,364 fans at St. John Arena, defeating Loyola 3-0 and clinching a spot in the NCAA tournament. The victory also marked head coach Pete Hanson’s 700th career win.
Though Ohio State has often struggled to put teams away up 2-0, the Buckeyes finished off the Ramblers in the third set 25-19 to claim the title.
“Early in the season, we didn’t beat the better teams like BYU or UCLA,” Ohio State senior outside hitter Nicolas Szerszen said. “That kind of changed us in the RPI where we didn’t get a bid, so it was either all-in today or nothing.”
Szerszen was everywhere he needed to be in both the front and back rows, ending the opening set with seven kills and five digs. Junior setter Sanil Thomas had 16 assists in the first set alone — six more than his 10.59 assist per game average.
Though Loyola was able to avoid taking many attacking errors, the Ramblers struggled offensively, failing to find the right power or strategy to bring in the kills. Loyola’s top attacker, junior outside hitter Collin Mahan, struggled alongside his team, ending the first set with only one kill.
The Buckeyes won the first set 25-20.
In the second set, the Ramblers came onto the court with a renewed energy. Big on the net, Loyola intimidated Ohio State attackers into hitting the ball over Rambler blockers’ hands and out of bounds.
After four attacking errors in a matter of seven plays from his team, Hanson called a timeout with his team trailing 9-5. A back-row attack from Szerszen won the Buckeyes the side-out and brought some elevated energy onto Ohio State’s side of the court.
Hanson said that during the timeout, he told the Buckeyes to stay calm and maintain a consistent push against the Ramblers.
“I heard this quote from the national team coach one time. It said, ‘You don’t have to be playing great volleyball all the time, but if you play good volleyball for a long period of time you’re going to be successful,’” Hanson said. “We just told them, ‘You don’t have to make the ultimate play. You don’t have to make the ultimate kill. Just be good, settle in and do what we have been doing.’”
Senior outside hitter Maxime Hervoir and redshirt junior middle blocker Blake Leeson each registered a pair of kills with the Buckeyes trailing around the middle of the set to give Ohio State the advantage in the second set.
Ohio State used the momentum to win the second set 25-23 and take a 2-0 lead.
Szerszen said that given Ohio State’s struggles to put teams away after going up 2-0, he was a little bit worried going into the third set.
“I got a little bit scared, I’m not going to lie. I saw some of the players getting a little relaxed, a little less involved than in the two first ones,” Szerszen said. “I made sure that some of the players kept going until the end. and were focused till the end and had a little bit of hate in them when they played. Because if you just go back and play to pay, you’re not going to be as efficient as if you just want to kill the opponent.”
Loyola fell behind early to start off the third set. Though Rambler Mahan and senior opposite Ricky Gevis scored their fair share of kills with four each, Loyola could not keep up with the Buckeyes.
Determined to end the match in the third set, the Buckeyes came out swinging with a hitting percentage of .500 and three-plus kills each from Szerszen, Leeson, Hanes and redshirt senior middle blocker Nick Laffin.
A kill from Hervoir ended the match and sent Buckeye players running onto the court in celebration of the end of one tournament and the beginning of another.
“It feels good to go there, and honestly, I think it’s gonna be good because we have nothing to lose,” he said. “All the other teams are technically ranked higher than us. We’re the underdog just like two years ago, and it’s always good to come in a game as the underdog.”
At the end of the night, three Ohio State players were awarded MIVA All-Tournament Accolades — Thomas, redshirt freshman opposite Jake Hanes and Szerszen, who was named Most Outstanding Player.