The No. 2 Ohio State men’s volleyball team (21-1, 10-0 MIVA) takes on Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (5-17, 2-8 MIVA) and No. 11 Ball State University (15-6, 6-4 MIVA) for the second time this season on Thursday and Saturday at St. John Arena.
OSU comes into the weekend following a dramatic five-set win against Lewis University during coach Pete Hanson’s 1,000th career match in more than three decades with the Buckeyes. After dropping a match to No. 5 University of California, Irvine on March 11 and ending its historic 42-match win streak, the Buckeyes will look to extend its 25-match Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) win streak with wins against Fort Wayne and Ball State.
“Everyone learns more after you play your opponent once,” Hanson said. “To defeat them, we just have to play clean volleyball. We have to serve the ball well and kind of get our offense back on track.”
On Thursday, OSU will first face the Fort Wayne Mastodons. The last time the teams met was Feb. 4, when the Buckeyes handled business to sweep the Mastodons in straight sets. In their 112-match history, the Buckeyes have come on top on 75 occasions.
Fort Wayne comes to Columbus after traveling to Phoenix to face fellow-MIVA opponent Grand Canyon University for a pair of matches, losing both 0-3 and 2-3.
Fort Wayne outside hitter Nick Smalter earned MIVA Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors on March 21 after his performance against Grand Canyon. During the match, he tallied 29 kills — a MIVA season high — on a .451 attacking rate.
In his first match back home since hitting the millennial mark, Hanson will be looking to improve his overall career record to 667-334 and MIVA record to 291-90.
On Saturday, the Buckeyes will clash with the Ball State Cardinals. With the Cardinals sitting at the fifth spot in the MIVA standings, Ball State will hope to put another match in the conference win column to help secure home-court advantage in the MIVA tournament as the No. 4 seed.
The last time OSU and Ball State faced each other was Feb. 2, when the Buckeyes swept the Cardinals in straight sets. The win helped OSU extend its win streak to 33 matches and break the school record. Ball State, Hanson’s alma mater, has faced OSU more than any other opponent with 178 meetings.
“I think both teams are very good on defense and they’re pretty tenacious in each point, so they’re going to extend rallies and make it difficult mentally for us,” said redshirt junior libero Josh Tublin. “If we can focus point-to-point and realize that they’re going to make some incredible digs, we can beat them if we just play our game.”
Statistically, Ball State ranks in the top six nationally in two defensive categories. As the No. 4 blocking team in the nation, the Cardinals are averaging 2.55 blocks per set, and as the No. 6 digging team in the country, the Cardinals are digging 9.14 balls per set.
With the end of the regular season in sight, OSU still has goals it wants to accomplish in its next seven matches. With three more MIVA wins, OSU will secure the top seed in the MIVA tournament and if the Buckeyes are able to maintain ranked in the top-two nationally, it will secure a bye in the NCAA tournament.
“I think there’s a lot to play for. We’ve got a lot things that we can accomplish and set up nicely if we can just continue to play well and win,” Hanson said. “Play hard now to make your life a little bit easier in three or four weeks when the playoffs begin.”
The Buckeyes face Fort Wayne on Thursday at 7 p.m. and Ball State on Saturday at 7 p.m., both at St. John Arena.