Head coach Pete Hanson all too well remembers watching Loyola University of Chicago finish off the final point of the 2015 Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Conference semi-final effectively ending Ohio State’s 2014-15 season with a record of 22-9 (12-5). Watching Loyola win their second-consecutive championship last season only ignited a fire in the Buckeyes who returned the majority of their key contributors in 2015-16.
Then-No. 9 OSU finally faced then-No. 5 Loyola (Ill.) on Feb. 12 in its first match versus the Ramblers since the MIVA semifinals. On the east side of Chicago, Hanson and the determined Buckeyes quickly dispatched the Ramblers on their home court in a three-set victory. From then on, OSU rattled off 23 straight victories culminating in a final triumph on Saturday night.
The Buckeyes continually added match upon match to the win column only going five sets four times for the rest of the season. Finishing with a three-set victory over the No. 1 BYU Cougars in Rec Hall on the ground of Pennsylvania State University, the Buckeyes ended the 2015-16 campaign with an exclamation mark and another NCAA championship, the second in six years.
It was the same consistent play on Saturday night in the national championship match that has carried Hanson’s squad all season. Junior opposite hitter Miles Johnson tallied 15 kills, redshirt junior Driss Guessous added 10 kills and National Player of the Year Nicolas Szerszen had 10 thunderous kills to aid in the quick defeat of the Cougars.
Perhaps the most surprising performance came from redshirt freshman Blake Leeson, who had a career high 11 kills on the night. The 6-foot-7 middle blocker was dominant in the middle for OSU, getting early touches on balls to give his team another chance to get the ball onto the powerful hand of Szerszen. But on the final point, Leeson took advantage of a high set from junior setter Christy Blough and sealed the Buckeyes destiny as national champions.
Each match during the win streak has seen one or more Buckeyes answering the call to push them over the top. In the MIVA championship game that went five sets, senior outside hitter Peter Edwards stroked seven straight points from the service stripe closing out the team’s first NCAA tournament berth since its last national title in 2011.
Coming into the tournament ranked at No. 2 in the country, OSU was given the task of playing a play-in game to earn the right to clash with UCLA in the final four. Some felt the Buckeyes were snubbed not earning an automatic bid to the final four, but Hanson focused his team to a resounding victory over George Mason.
OSU pummeled GMU in three sets (25-22, 25-19, 25-22) in January, but the Buckeyes fell behind after one set in the quarterfinal. The nine service errors in the first set were completely uncharacteristic of the steady Buckeyes. Following the final point in the first set, OSU came out firing and didn’t seem bothered with dropping the first set. Szerszen led OSU with 20 kills and 16 digs in the match, propelling the Buckeyes to their 21st consecutive win.
In the national semifinal versus UCLA, it was same story, different match for OSU and the National Player of the Year. Szerszen was limited to 15 kills on the night as the Bruins defense keyed in on the 6-foot-4 outside hitter. Johnson was monumental on the attack for the Buckeyes, collecting 20 kills in the match to pick up the slack when Szerszen couldn’t produce. But at 17-16 in extra points in the final set, OSU’s best player was separated from blockers toeing the service stripe and ripped home a berth to the national championship.
Ranked No. 1 in the country with a record of 27-4, the BYU Cougars proved no match for the highly touted Buckeyes, who were simply unstoppable for more than half of the season. OSU capped off an extra-points victory in set one, winning 32-30 in dramatic fashion. That was all the drama Rec Hall saw that night. Hanson and his nearly invincible team finished off the Cougars 25-23 and 25-17.
OSU started the ‘15-’16 campaign at 1-2 after dropping a four-set match against then-No. 5 UCLA. In his 32nd season as OSU’s leader on the sideline, the tenured Hanson turned his team around to an aggressive, attacking team that prided itself on dominant victories. From then on, the Buckeyes dropped just one five-set match versus then-No.14 Ball State, which ended up being the team’s only conference loss.
Perhaps the biggest turnover of the season was evident away from Columbus. Last season, seven of OSU’s nine losses came on the road. This season, OSU was undefeated at 11-0 away from St. John Arena and only went the distance in one match at then-No. 6 Penn State.
Hanson was named NCAA Coach of the Year for the fourth time in his career, and he proudly lifted the championship trophy for the second time in his career. And like in 2011, cheers from the OSU fan base and his triumphant team filled Rec Hall to end a season to remember.