Szerszen, Ohio State win back-to-back NCAA volleyball titles

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Nicolas Szerszen led Ohio State to its second straight NCAA volleyball championship, hitting .480 and finishing with 16 kills and eight digs in the top-ranked Buckeyes’ 25-19, 25-20, 25-22 victory over BYU on Saturday night.

Ohio State (32-2) also beat BYU (26-5) in the title game last year.

”Hats off to BYU,” Ohio State coach Pete Hanson said. ”That’s a great program and a really good team. They played their hearts out.”

Maxime Hervoir added 10 kills, with two errors, on 17 swings (.471) and four total blocks, and Christy Blough had 35 assists for Ohio State.

The Cougars entered the match ranked fourth in the nation in hitting percentage at .323, but hit just .243 and looked out of sync from the start. They hit .043 with nine errors, including two in a row as Ohio State took a 3-0 lead, in the first set. Jake Langlois led BYU with eight kills, Brenden Sander added seven, and Leo Durkin had 24 assists. Ben Patch had six kills, three aces and four digs.

”They definitely played a better volleyball match than we did tonight,” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said.

A kill by Langlois to open the third set gave BYU its first lead since 7-6 in the opening set and the Cougars didn’t trail again until back-to-back kills by Hervoir put Ohio State back in front for good at 11-10.

The Buckeyes, playing on their home court in front of 8,205 fans, hit just .148 in the first set before rallying.

”Buckeye Nation was off the charts tonight,” Hanson said about the crowd’s impact. ”Eight thousand to see these guys play volleyball has never happened here before.”

And Ohio State responded in kind, hitting .448 in the second set and .480 in the third to hold off the Cougars for its third national championship – all of which have come under Hanson, the first in 2011.

BYU, which finished with 16 hitting errors, had just two – while hitting .455 – in the third. An ace by Kiril Meretev pulled the Cougars within one before a 7-3 run by Ohio State made it 23-18. Back-to-back kills by Patch trimmed the deficit to 23-21, but BYU would get no closer and Blough fed Szerszen for the kill on championship point.

”This was our best game of the season, without a doubt,” Bough said. ”We’ve been building to this point. It was a complete team effort.”