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Columbus, Ohio • Having been embarrassed by Ohio State's powerful service game a year ago in the 2016 national championship match, the BYU Cougars spent the past 12 months preparing for the thunderous blasts of the likes of Nicolas Szerszen, Maxime Hervoir, Blake Leeson and Miles Johnson.
It didn't show. Or, Ohio State's big guns, joined by Driss Guessous and Christy Blough, simply got better.
With the Buckeyes' dominating servers at least as good as they were last year, BYU was never able to get into system or find any rhythm on attack for prolonged stretches until it was too late. As a result, the heavily favored Buckeyes swept the third-seeded Cougars 3-0 on Saturday night in front of more than 8,000 overjoyed fans at St. John Arena.
The 300 or so BYU fans in attendance could only look on in disbelief as the Cougars dropped to 26-5 on the season and 3-4 in national championship matches all-time.
"Congrats to Ohio State on its outstanding season, and great performance tonight," said BYU coach Shawn Olmstead. "They definitely played a better volleyball match than we did tonight. … It's tough. I feel for these guys, and I wish it was a different result. But it is not, and so it is life, and it is sport, and those things are hard at times."
The scores were 25-19, 25-20 and 25-22 as Ohio State (32-2) won its third title in seven years and BYU saw its 13-year drought of titles continue.
"It sucks," said BYU junior setter Leo Durkin. "I mean, we were given some great opportunities, and we weren't able to capitalize, and stop them. It just sucks. That's just what it is."
Ohio State hit .358 and held the Cougars to a hitting percentage of .243, mainly because the Buckeyes were so overpowering from the service line that BYU struggled to even receive serves, let alone get in position to pass, set and attack.
BYU led twice early in the first set, never in the second set, and only briefly in a third set that was tied nine times.
The Cougars vowed after last year's 3-0 loss to the Buckeyes at Penn State's Rec Hall to get better in their serve-receive game, to no avail.
"We kept them off the net a lot more than we did last year [by improving BYU's serving], but they also got better at serving, and it was impressive and you respect their ability to do it," said BYU middle blocker Price Jarman. "I don't want to say this one stings less than last year, but I would say we felt more like underdogs coming into this one, knowing how good they are."
That showed early as the Buckeyes took control, jumping out to a quick 4-1 lead in the first set. BYU cut it to 10-9, but that's when Szerszen, the tournament's most outstanding player, took over from the service line. The native of France led Ohio State on a 9-1 run that pretty much clinched the set for the home team, as the loud and raucous crowd packed St. John after Ohio State averaged 930 fans per home match during the season and had an impact, as expected.
"We allowed them to go on some runs, get their crowd in it, and that killed us," Olmstead said, while also crediting the turnout "It's great for men's volleyball. I love it," said the second-year coach who has taken the Cougars to the finals in both of his seasons.
Although the Cougars made a lot of mistakes they didn't make in winning 16 of 18 MPSF matches, Durkin said they "didn't get rattled at all."
"Those uncharacteristic mistakes, maybe you got a loud crowd, you can't hear each other, it is hard to communicate," he said. "But other than that, the guys were doing a great job."
Olmstead turned to two-time All-American Ben Patch with BYU trailing 19-10 in the first set, and the outgoing junior delivered a couple kills. But it was too little, too late and the Buckeyes clinched the set when Brenden Sander committed a service error, BYU's fourth of the opening set.
Sander shined in BYU's 3-0 win over Long Beach State in Thursday's semifinal, but didn't have it Saturday. He hit .150 and committed three service errors. Jake Langlois led BYU with eight kills.
"We just couldn't get things going out there with those guys," Olmstead said. "… We were a little too predictable, due to their serving."
Fittingly, perhaps, Szerszen ended the match with a big kill, his 16th, to finish with a hitting percentage of .480.
R Top-seeded Buckeyes sweep third-seeded Cougars for second straight year in championship match, this time on their home floor in front of 8,205 fans.
• OSU's Nicolas Szerszen registers 16 kills and wins Tournament Most Valuable Player honors.
• BYU hits .243 and commits 11 service errors in the loss, dropping to 26-5 for the season.