Before this past weekend, the Ohio State men’s volleyball team seemed as if it would finish its season with just a whisper.
After losing their 17th and 18th matches to then-No. 8 Lewis and then-No. 11 Loyola Chicago, the Buckeyes seemed destined to close out the regular season with two more losses before falling to the Flyers or the Ramblers in the first round of the MIVA tournament.
But this past weekend, the Buckeyes mounted comebacks in back-to-back matches, overcoming early 2-1 set disadvantages to claim victory over then-No. 13 Purdue Fort Wayne and Ball State. The wins give Ohio State significant momentum heading into its conference tournament matchup against No. 10 Loyola Chicago Saturday in Chicago.
“The two wins were special,” Ohio State head coach Pete Hanson said. “We’ve had a tough season. We’re kind of fighting and clawing for every win that we get and it was just really good to see the guys battle through some adversity.”
The Buckeyes have faced significant adversity this season and that won’t change Saturday when they take on Loyola Chicago, to whom they’ve lost six-straight sets. The Ramblers finished their season on a six-match winning streak, four of which were straight-set victories, including a March 29 win against the Buckeyes.
The Ramblers, carrying the No. 2 seed in the tournament, place in the top 10 nationally in seven categories: Assists per set, digs per set, hitting percentage, kills per set, win-loss percentage and team attacks per set.
They feature sophomore setter Garrett Zolg, whose 1,043 assists lead the nation and 10.97 assists per set ratio rank him No. 2 nationally. Senior outside hitter Collin Mahan paces the squad offensively with 327 kills and 41 aces, while senior middle blocker Paul Narup anchors the frontlines with 114 blocks.
But the Buckeyes have weapons of their own.
Despite missing seven matches due to a foot injury, sophomore outside hitter Jake Hanes has put together a first-team all-conference season, totaling 322 kills and 29 aces.
Redshirt senior middle blocker Blake Leeson and senior setter Sanil Thomas have been major contributors in their final season, providing 189 kills, 15 aces and 86 blocks and 561 assists, 14 aces and 80 digs, respectively.
Leeson said the team won’t let the way the season went dictate how it plays in the postseason.
“Anything’s possible. I think we’re the dark horse in the tournament,” Leeson said. “ We’ll let the cards lay how they lay and see what happens up there.”
Ohio State opens postseason play in the MIVA tournament at 8 p.m. Saturday against No. 10 Loyola Chicago in Chicago.