For the No. 10-ranked Ohio State men’s volleyball team, Thursday’s match against George Mason became more about overcoming distraction than executing.
George Mason’s bench caused commotion and appeared to be attempting to divert the attention of the Buckeyes, but OSU outlasted its boisterous opponent, 3-2.
A seemingly unfocused team and a visibly frustrated coach Pete Hanson appeared early in the first set. The score tied 10 times before George Mason picked up momentum.
Hanson said too many spike and serving errors gave his team the most trouble.
“It’s a combination of young guys learning how to play together,” said Hanson. “It’s hard to play good for a long time.”
The Patriots served and scored first with an attack error by OSU’s freshman outside hitter, Michael Henchy. A Henchy service error tied the game at five.
Junior middle blocker Grayson Overman tied the game at seven with his first kill of the night. OSU got its first lead after a block by Overman and senior opposite Shawn Sangrey.
But the Patriots didn’t allow OSU to hold onto the advantage for long.
At 12-11, George Mason went on a four-point run, scoring on two Buckeye errors and two kills.
After a timeout, the Buckeyes gave up two more points to George Mason before a second timeout was called.
With the Patriots up, 20-14, OSU slowly began to close the gap. The Buckeyes put up six points while holding George Mason to two, but the lead was too much for OSU.
Set point came for George Mason with a kill by redshirt freshman setter Pete Cuppernull. An attack error by senior outside hitter Mik Berzins gave George Mason the set, 21-25.
The Patriots rode the momentum into set two and took a quick 10-6 lead.
Kills by Sangrey, Berzins, redshirt freshman middle blocker Shawn Herron and junior outside hitter Chen Levitan helped the Buckeyes’ cause, while errors started to become a serious detriment.
Then the Buckeyes’ bench caught on to the tactics of their opponent and responded, cheering louder to support their teammates.
OSU put up six points, making it 12-13, and forced a George Mason timeout.
OSU gained its first lead in the second set, 14-13, after a Sangrey kill and an attack error in their favor. The cheers from the bench grew louder than ever as OSU moved four points ahead and the Patriots called their second time out.
At 23-20, a serve from George Mason’s redshirt senior outside hitter Joe Norton hit the net, putting OSU at set point. Freshman middle blocker Hunter Stevens gave OSU the set with a service error of his own, 25-21.
Tied at three in the third set, Herron’s kill and a ball hit wide by George Mason gave the Buckeyes the lead.
The Patriot bench came alive again, chanting and shouting during every OSU serve.
Berzins got a kill to make it 10-6, but possession went back to George Mason.
As George Mason’s sophomore opposite hitter Jonathan Lutz began to serve, a fan yelled an insult from somewhere in an otherwise silent St. John Arena.
George Mason trailed for the remainder of the set. At 18-16, Overman attacked with a perfectly placed tip to give his team another point.
A powerful kill from Herron made the score 22-19, but he was blocked in the next play by two Patriots.
The referees called junior setter Kyle Lawrence’s attack out of bounds and the decision infuriated Hanson, who stormed onto the court. Hanson was promptly given a yellow card for his behavior and George Mason was awarded a point.
Berzins said the yellow card issued to his coach was “warranted.”
“That’s part of the game,” said Berzins.
The Buckeyes overcame the confusion after a timeout. A Patriot error put OSU at set point and Sangrey sealed the third set with a kill, 25-22.
Lawrence stepped up to serve first in the fourth set and delivered a service ace.
Back-to-back kills by Herron and Sangrey put the Bucks up, 8-5. But George Mason caught up with OSU and tied the set at 14.
With the set tied, 16-16, the Patriots reclaimed the lead.
George Mason reached set point first and a kill by junior outside hitter Michael Kvidahl forced a deciding fifth set.
The Buckeyes gained an 8-5 advantage in the fifth set and the teams swapped sides of the court. Back-to-back errors from George Mason made it 10-6.
Overman delivered a punishing kill to put the score at 13-10. He and Sangrey assisted on a block to reach set point. Berzins ended the match, 15-11.
Sangrey, the team’s main offensive force, was 19-of-46 in kills.
“When Shawn (Sangrey) struggles, we all struggle,” Hanson said. “We are trying to find someone to be our anchor, our Mr. Consistency.”
Hanson and Berzins also insisted that
the team was unaffected by George Mason’s attempt to derail the defending national champions.
The Buckeyes, 4-3 on the season, will take on Saint Francis Sunday at 3 p.m. in St. John Arena.