DICKSON: Midwest is new home of men’s college volleyball masters

May 7, 2016

Perhaps it’s time for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation to give up the mantle of men’s college volleyball capital of the country.

Or perhaps that mantle has simply been taken from them, quite forcefully.

Ohio State’s shocking 32-30, 25-23, 25-17 sweep of top-ranked BYU in the NCAA championship match gives the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association three straight titles – the back-to-back trophies won by Loyola-Chicago and this one by the Buckeyes. The MIVA has won four of the past six gold trophies.

What in the name of Karch Kiraly is going on here?

Surely BYU fans, players and coaches are asking that question after getting swept by Ohio State on Saturday at Penn State’s Rec Hall. All week long the Buckeyes said they were going to step back to the service line and let it rip.

That’s exactly what they did, and BYU had no answer.

The landscape of men’s college volleyball has changed. Chew on this: When BYU won its first national title in 1999, it was only the second time in 30 years a team not based on the West Coast had won the championship.

Now, the Midwest is king.

Cougars fans may grumble about six set points that BYU failed to capitalize on in Set 1, or a true “Steve Bartman” moment in Set 2 when a young BYU fan’s interference cost the Cougars a point. But the hard truth of the matter was Ohio State was simply tougher at the key moments in Sets 1 and 2. The Cougars led by two or three points in the first two sets but couldn’t hold the lead because of incredible service pressure by Ohio State.

BYU knew coming in the Buckeyes were a great serving team. Serving is kind of like 3-point shooting in basketball; sometimes you’re on fire and sometimes you’re not. Ohio State was terrific at the service line all night long. When the Buckeyes weren’t serving aces (eight to BYU’s two) they were getting the Cougars out of system. When BYU got a good pass, Ohio State couldn’t do much to stop the Cougars high-flying offense. But the service pressure kept BYU from getting into any rhythm on offense.

Volleyball is a marathon, not a sprint, so even after losing the first two sets the Cougars had a chance to extend the match. Volleyball isn’t timed; you play the points and come back. Only there was nothing left in the BYU toolbox for Set 3.

As painful as that was to watch on a day that saw two other BYU teams (men’s and women’s rugby) also lose national championship matches, there is some hope for next year.

There are six seniors leaving the BYU program but only one starter (middle blocker Michael Hatch). The Cougars will return everyone else, including All-Americans Ben Patch, Brenden Sander and setter Leo Durkin. BYU needs to learn to serve tougher and pass better. No surprise there. Coaches preach that all day long.

BYU has won the MPSF title in three of the past four seasons and gotten to the championship match twice. Coming up empty should make everyone really, really hungry to get back to the finals against next year.

In the post-match news conference, Durkin said as much, adding, “I’ve never hated the color silver more than I do now.”

He was referring to the shade of the runner-up medal. Gold will have to wait for another day.

Especially primed for another run will be BYU’s Shawn Olmstead, maybe the only coach to ever lose NCAA volleyball championship matches with both genders. No one is going to be more driven to change that status than Olmstead himself.

If the Cougars get back to the pinnacle of the sport in 2017, guess where the championships are being held?

St. John’s Arena in Columbus, home of the Ohio State Buckeyes.

There can’t be a clearer goal for BYU to focus on for next year.

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