UCLA men’s volleyball beat the two-time defending national champion, Ohio State, on Saturday in Pauley Pavilion.
The No. 2 Bruins (7-0) hosted the No. 3 Buckeyes (3-2) in their final game of the 2018 AVCA Men’s Showcase on Saturday afternoon. It was the first time the two teams had faced since the 2017 showcase, in which UCLA lost 3-1.
The Bruins started with a 5-0 lead in the first set, causing the Buckeyes to take a timeout early on.
UCLA continued its momentum, however, and took the first set 25-18, with senior outside hitter JT Hatch and senior opposite Christian Hessenauer leading the Bruins with five kills each. Defensively, UCLA had five total team blocks, compared to Ohio State’s two.
The second set was closer than the first, with no team able to run away with a decisive lead. The Buckeyes contributed heavily to the Bruin score, hitting .156 with multiple attacking attempts sailing wide. They would finish .113 offensively.
UCLA’s hitters faced a physically bigger Ohio State team at the net, particularly with 6-foot-7 middle blocker Blake Leeson and 6-foot-10 opposite Jake Hanes.
“I think we’re a bit smaller than a lot of teams right now,” said coach John Speraw. “So shot selection, especially in out of system situations, is a place we’re going to have to improve.”
The Buckeyes rallied through the second set, with reigning National Player of the Year Nicolas Szerszen finding his offensive form in the later stages of the game. Szerszen would finish with 21 kills, hitting .311 to lead Ohio State. The Buckeyes won the second set 25-22 with a kill from Leeson.
The third set did not start well for UCLA, as the Bruins continued struggling with serves. UCLA logged three service errors in the first nine points alone, and finished with 29 total. Ohio State faltered from the service line as well, racking up 21 and contributing almost a third of UCLA’s points through missed serves in the set three.
“We were keeping up with them even though we made a ton of (serving) errors,” said sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah. “Our mindset when we get back to serve is just to take a crack at it.”
Speraw sees high-risk, high-reward serving as a part of the modern game.
“Service errors don’t matter,” Speraw said. “It’s not that I want missed serves and I’d like them to be better efforts … but serving tough is a necessity in our game today. Ohio State knows that better than anyone else – they’ve won two national championships and they’ve had the most service errors in the country both those years.”
The third set finished 27-25 to UCLA, with Ohio State’s outside hitter Reese Devilbiss’ swing sending the ball sailing far from the back of the court.
Set four was another tight race between the two teams, as the Bruins continued to find ways past Buckeyes’ block, using Hessenauer on the right side as one of their biggest weapons. Hessenauer impressed offensively, logging 19 kills total and hitting .214 to lead UCLA’s offense.
UCLA was the first to set point, but the Buckeyes weren’t ready to end the match there. A service error from the Bruins, followed by an ace from Buckeye Jake Hanes, meant a final fifth set to decide the game.
“That was a bummer,” Hatch said. “I had a couple errors in the middle of that, for them to cut it close. … I mean we really should have won that.”
The fifth set was a close affair, with four lead changes and seven tie scores. UCLA would ultimately take the final set through a kill by junior outside hitter Dylan Missry, which spiraled into the seats off the arms of a Buckeye defender.
Saturday was the first time since 2016 that UCLA logged a win over Ohio State. The Bruins extend their win streak to seven games after this weekend.
“I like the way this team is competing,” Speraw said. “We’re not a complete team and we’re going to have to work hard to see if we can get there.”