All season, the Ohio State men’s volleyball team carried the weight of being the hunted.
That’s what comes as defending national champion. But the Buckeyes seldom played as if burdened by it, and Saturday night, it all came to fruition against the team that wanted to beat them the most.
For the second straight year, Ohio State defeated Brigham Young in the NCAA final in straight sets. This one might have been even more special because the Buckeyes’ 25-19, 25-20, 25-22 victory was accomplished in front of a roaring crowd of 8,205 at St. John Arena.
“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” senior Miles Johnson said. “It was the craziest crowd I’ve ever played in front of.”
It was the third national title in seven years for Ohio State. There was little doubt that the crowd gave an emotional boost.
“You can’t quantify that,” Hanson said. “Buckeye Nation was off the charts tonight. Eight-thousand people to watch these guys play volleyball has never happened in this community before.”
That Nicolas Szerszen had the kill on championship point to close out the victory was fitting. Szerszen had 16 kills and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Nine of his kills were in the third set.
But this was very much a team effort. Maxime Hervoir, Ohio State’s only new starter this year, had 10 kills, including the one that set up match point. Johnson added nine kills.
Ohio State seldom trailed in any of the sets as BYU struggled with its kills. The Cougars (26-5) hit only .243, though they improved as the match progressed. The Buckeyes (32-2) hit .358 and took control with their serving at key moments.
“I just felt like we allowed them to go on some runs and that killed us,” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said. “Things got just right out of our reach.”
In the first set, two straight service aces by Blough put the Buckeyes ahead 10-8, and then Szerszen got on one of his rolls. Ohio State won five straight points on his serve and eventually built their advantage to 20-12.
BYU scored the next three points but get any closer. Ohio State closed out the set on a service error by Brenden Sander.
The second set was tight until the Buckeyes won five of six points to take a 13-8 lead. The Buckeyes built a 21-13 lead before the Cougars made a minor push, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
The third set was tighter. Neither team led by more than two points until Blake Leeson hit an ace to put Ohio State ahead 16-13. The Cougars closed to 23-21 before Hervoir’s kill. He missed a serve on the next point, but then Szerszen closed it out.
“Congrats to Ohio State,” Olmstead said. “Outstanding season. Great performance tonight. They definitely played a better volleyball match than we did tonight.
“I feel for these guys. I wish it was a different result, but it’s not.”
Ohio State’s Szerszen, Hervoir, Blough, Driss Guessous and Blake Leeson were named to the all-tournament team.
“It’s incredibly special, especially for us seniors,” said Blough, who plans to attend medical school next year. “I don’t think we can go out on a better note than that.”