May 6, 2016
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Ohio State University men’s volleyball team claimed its spot in the 2016 NCAA Finals by out-lasting second-seeded UCLA (25-7) in a five-set match for the ages. The Buckeyes (30-3) carry a 22-match winning streak into Saturday (May 7) night’s championship showdown versus No. 1 BYU (27-3); broadcast live on ESPN2 starting at 8 p.m. ET.
The final scoreboard read – 22-25, 25-22, 25-21, 20-25, 18-16 – in favor of the Scarlet & Gray.
BUCKEYE QUICK HITS
-Ohio State reaches 30 wins for the first time since the 1982 squad posted a 30-8 mark
-Ohio State has won 22 consecutive matches, taking 66 of 82 sets during the victorious stretch
-Ohio State’s 22-match winning streak is the program’s longest since rattling off 22 straight in 1998 as well
-Ohio State hasn’t suffered a loss since Feb. 6, spanning three full months
-Ohio State has now advanced to the NCAA Finals four times in school history (1977, 2000, 2011, 2016)
Thirteen different Buckeyes saw action in a marathon bout requiring 34 fifth-set rallies to decipher a victor. The elongated contest totaled 43 tied scores and 17 lead changes as the 2,224 fans in attendance received quite a show.
First Team All-Americans Miles Johnson and Nicolas Szerszen contributed over 20 points apiece, including the final dagger. Szerszen toeing the service stripe both started and ended the night. The National Player of the Year put it into play to begin the match and ultimately turned the lights off with an absolute laser of a service ace eradicating the Bruins, 18-16, in the fifth frame.
Johnson paced all players with 23 points coming on 20 kills, two aces and two block assists. He attacked .395 (20-3-43) and added 10 digs to record a double-double. Szerszen accumulated 15 kills, five aces and eight digs to compliment his fellow First Teamer.
Driss Guessous returned to the lineup after flu-like symptoms knocked him out of Tuesday’s play-in match. The Pasadena, Calif., native threw up a match-high five blocks and terminated four kills. Gabriel Domecus, from Vallejo, Calif., also represented well for the Golden State with 19 digs and a pair of assists. Christian Franceschi ranked third on the squad with seven kills.
Guessous did his best to keep the Buckeyes afloat in the opening frame, rejecting the Bruins three times and helping to hold UCLA at .138 attacking efficiency. Ohio State’s service game aggressiveness is rarely matched, but that was exactly the case in set number one. The Bruins fired away from the baseline, succeeding in throwing the OSU offense out of sync. Ohio State managed just five kills and hit .038 during the 25-22 UCLA triumph.
Neither squad could muster an advantage of more than a lone point in Set 2 until subsequent Bruin blunders handed Ohio State an 11-9 edge. The two-point OSU cushion resurfaced at 12-10, 15-13, 17-15, 18-16, 19-17 and again at 20-18 before a three-point run for UCLA forced Ohio State head coach Pete Hanson to burn a timeout trailing 21-20. Franceschi responded by tooling a kill off the block to even the ledger at 21-21. The block then turned the tables on him for the very next point, stuffing Franceschi to swing the lead back over to UCLA. Ohio State’s shortcoming was short-lived, however, remedied immediately by four tallies in a row to capture a 25-22 winner.
Ohio State unhitched the offensive wagon in Set 3, hitting .545 as a team on the strength of five kills each for Johnson and Szerszen. It was no stroll in the park though as UCLA sprinted out to a 4-1 lead and attacked at a .458 clip. The Buckeyes battled back in a hurry to promptly even things up at 5-5. The tilt would go on to see knotted tallies of 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, so on and so forth, until a final tie of 13-13 was broken up by back-to-back Buckeye kills to buck the tied score trend right before a media timeout at 15-13. Play resumed with a Guessous ace and block from Leeson-Johnson, extending Ohio State’s scoring spurt to four straight. After a one-point hiccup allowing UCLA to score, Szerszen tattooed a Bruin backrow defending in the chest on an emphatic kill to regain a four-point upper hand the team wouldn’t relinquish en route to the 25-21 victory.
Drama took a back seat in the fourth. The Bruins doubled up Ohio State early on at 8-4, causing the Buckeyes to call a timeout. The break in action proved beneficial for Ohio State, seizing seven of the next 10 points to pull alongside the Bruins at 11-11. That juncture was the last shared score of the set, however, as UCLA sent the contest into a fifth, final and decisive set following the 25-20 fourth frame.
Suspense returned in spades for set number five. The Buckeyes found themselves in an 8-5 hole as the teams swapped ends of the court. Ohio State’s new surroundings across the net from its cheering section were much more friendly, immediately paying dividends with two fast points cutting the deficit to a single point at 8-7. Kills were then exchanged to make it 9-8 when Peter Edwards clocked in for serving duties. He got to work right away, too, connecting on consecutive serves blowing up the Bruin serve-receive efforts and setting up Ohio State with wide open attacking lanes as UCLA scrambled to get back into position. The plot further thickened moments later thanks to three in a row for UCLA erasing the Buckeyes’ 13-11 lead and creating the Bruin’s first of three failed match-point opportunities at 14-13. Ohio State would go on to fend off two more potential season-enders at 15-14 and 16-15 as well. Put-aways from Johnson and Franceschi ordered up Ohio State’s first and only match-point chance and Szerszen delivered. His fifth ace of the evening caromed off the Bruin defense and flew into the crowd, sending Buckeye Nation into bedlam. Final score from Happy Valley: 18-16, good guys.