Only now can they embrace the moment.
Throughout the season, the Ohio State men’s volleyball players knew the reward if they took care of business. Their home, St. John Arena, is the host site of the NCAA championships this week. The Buckeyes are defending champions.
Yet they did their best all season to put blinders on and not avert their eyes from the next immediate target. The Buckeyes did that pretty well. They are 30-2, won the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association title and are the No. 1 seed for the NCAAs.
Now comes what they hope is the culmination.
“It’s nice to finally be able to be in the moment,” senior libero Gabriel Domecus said Monday. “It’s no longer just looking forward to this. It’s actually here, and we can be excited about it. It brings a whole new vibe into the gym.”
Ohio State will play the winner of today’s Penn State-Hawaii match on Thursday in a national semifinal. Barton College of North Carolina and Brigham Young play today for the right to play No. 2 seed Long Beach State in the other semifinal Thursday. The final is Saturday.
Ohio State was a bit of a surprise champion last year, and the Buckeyes have worn the bull’s-eye that accompanies that. Penn State is one of the opponents to hit the target. After defeating the Nittany Lions in straight sets at home in January, Ohio State lost in State College in five sets in late March.
“A lot of the guys are kind of hoping we can match up with them again because obviously we’re not happy with the last result,” Domecus said. “That would be a great experience to prove ourselves, because we didn’t play as well as we could have.”
On Monday, Domecus was one of five Buckeyes who earned All-America distinction. Miles Johnson and Nicolas Szerszen were first-team picks. Christy Blough was a second-team selection, and Domecus and Driss Guessous were honorable mention.
“I think the guys believe in what we’re doing and the system,” said Pete Hanson, who is going for his third national title in 33 years as OSU coach. “I think they’re confident in their ability to play.
“It was kind of a challenging year even though we were 30-2. It’s tough to keep chasing something that you’ve already achieved. That was the part that we had to keep counseling them on: 'Don’t think too far ahead; just get ready for the next match.'”
The only recent hiccup came in the MIVA semifinals when the Buckeyes escaped after trailing 7-2 in the fifth set against Ball State. The St. John crowd helped Ohio State pull through in that match, and Hanson wants loud support this week.
“I would hope that it would be anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 all dressed in red — with the exception of a few hundred of the team we’re playing — and just screaming their lungs out and helping our guys get through the rough spots,” Hanson said.
“This is really neat. Winning it last year, we weren’t sure it was going to happen, but it was neat to have it happen. Getting a chance to defend it in St. John Arena is really cool.”