Los Angeles, CA – Two-time defending national champion Ohio State (25-5) survived a valiant challenge by UC Irvine (21-10) in a five set, seesaw thriller (25-19, 22-25, 25-23, 22-25, 16-14) to advance to Thursday’s NCAA Semifinal to face top seed Long Beach State (May 3, 5pm PT at Pauley Pavilion).
The grueling, two hour twenty-five minute match saw 17 lead changes and 31 ties with just four total points (110-106) separating the two teams.
The decisive fifth set alone saw 10 ties and 6 lead changes as the teams traded blows in heart pounding action. Irvine held a 13-12 advantage until Ohio State surged ahead to force two match points.
On the second match point, leading 15-14, Ohio State’s Nicolas Szerszen’s drilled a cross-court shot that clipped the back sideline to launch a relieved Buckeyes squad into the Final Four.
“This was a really tight game,” Szerszen said. “It could’ve gone either way and we just made a couple good plays at the right moment.”
Szerszen along redshirt freshman Jake Hanes recorded 22 kills each. Sanil Thomas led the Buckeyes with 9 digs and 3 blocks, including a crucial block to set up the decisive match point.
For UC Irvine, there was no moral victory in nearly knocking off the two-time defending national champion, but they hope to use the experience to propel their program to new heights.
“We play the game to win and it’s great to be on this stage, but this feels like unfinished business,” said UC Irvine head coach David Kniffin. “Our mission as a program is to cultivate champions and win championships.”
For Ohio State, they’re one step closer to winning their third consecutive national championship.
In the second quarterfinal game, tournament host #3 seed UCLA (25-7) shook off a sloppy start to eliminate Harvard (13-14) in four sets (23-25, 25-21, 25-11, 25-21). Harvard was competing in the NCAA championship tournament for the first time in its program’s history.
The Crimson jumped out to an early one-set lead and was leading 16-15 in the second set before UCLA found its passing and attack game and pulled away. Christian Hessenauer led the Bruins with 22 kills and 26 points.
Up next, the Bruins take on conference rival, #2 seed BYU, in the second semifinal game (Thursday 7:30pm, Pauley Pavilion). UCLA is 1-2 against BYU this season, losing in four sets to BYU just 10 day ago in the MPFS Championship Final.
“We’re hoping that our best volleyball of the year is still ahead of us. We’re excited to be playing in the Final Four again,” said UCLA head coach John Speraw. “We’re really looking forward to Thursday night.”