After splitting a home series with McKendree this past weekend, the Ohio State men’s volleyball team heads to Los Angeles having brought back a few key players in preparation for weekend matchups against No. 5 UCLA and No. 11 USC.
The Buckeyes (6-12, 2-6 MIVA) enter the road trip having reinserted sophomore outside hitter Jake Hanes into the lineup. Hanes has accrued 47 kills in his first two matches since coming back from injuring his foot in the Jan. 26 match against Ball State.
Also back for the Buckeyes are junior setter Andrew Hillman, who returned on Sunday from an injury he sustained in December during training, and sophomore outside hitter Martin Lallemand, who missed Sunday’s match against McKendree due to illness.
Ohio State head coach Pete Hanson said trying to find consistency has been extremely difficult with a lineup that seems to change every weekend.
“It’s been a real challenge, but I think the guys have handled it as well as they could,” Hanson said. “Not to let them off the hook and say, ‘Hey, it’s a real anomaly,’ but at the same point and time, we’ve also tried to tell them, ‘Hey, there aren’t many teams that are down three or four starters, let alone, sometimes just one starter,’ and that’s what we’ve had to deal with.”
Among the starters still injured, junior outside hitter Reese Devilbiss is working through an undisclosed injury, while senior setter Sanil Thomas is working to return to the lineup after injuring his hand in late January.
While the Buckeyes have struggled with consistency for much of this season, UCLA (14-4, 6-0 MPSF) has been drowning in it.
The Bruins are on a four-match winning streak and their Jan. 19 loss to No. 1 Long Beach State is their only loss at home this season. Junior middle blocker Daenan Gyimah leads the Bruins offensively, totalling 234 points on 190 kills, 17 aces and 48 total blocks. Defensively, senior setter Micah Ma’a is a top contributor, providing 129 digs and 35 total blocks in support.
On the other hand, USC (9-7, 3-3 MPSF) has had an up-and-down season thus far.
After opening the year with a 7-4 record, three-straight losses to then-No. 9 Stanford, then-No. 8 BYU and then-No. 6 UCLA brought the Trojans even before winning their past two matches against Concordia and then-No. 4 Pepperdine.
The Trojans are led by redshirt senior outside hitter Jack Wyett with 181 kills, adding 10 aces and 44 digs. Senior Ryan Moss leads the team defensively with 34 total blocks and 76 digs.
Ohio State is hoping the offensive production from Hanes and Lallemand, with 180 kills and 137 kills, respectively, can power the Buckeyes to a couple of road victories. But to have success, they’ll have to get used to being set by Hillman, who has taken over as Ohio State’s full-time setter in the absence of Thomas.
Despite the tough competition and the constant lineup changes, Hillman said the team will be ready to play this weekend.
“We’re excited,” Hillman said. “We really have nothing to lose right now. We’re going to go out there and play as hard as we can.”
Ohio State will face No. 5 UCLA at 8 p.m. Friday and No. 11 USC at 11 p.m. Saturday in Los Angeles.