COLUMBUS, Ohio – George Mason University's men's volleyball team showed that it can compete with the No. 1 team in the nation, but that was not enough for the Patriots to get on the board Tuesday night, losing to defending national champion Ohio State in straight sets at St. John Arena.
This way No. 1 Ohio State, the team that handed head coach Jay Hosack's team its season-ending defeat last year becomes the first team to defeat Mason in 2017. The Patriots fall to 2-1 while the Buckeyes retain their perfect record, 3-0.
-For the third match in a row, redshirt senior opposite hitter Jack Wilson (10 kills, .368 hitting) is the player who led Mason in kills and for the second time in a row he finished in double digits.
-Wilson's good performance on the night was outshone by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) National Player of the Week Nicolas Szerszen (.522 hitting, 4 digs), who had match-high 16 kills for Ohio State. His teammate Miles Johnson added the next most, 14, had as many digs and was one of the Buckeyes' two best blockers in the match with three blocks.
-Mason's freshman middle blocker Bryce Gatling (2 kills, .667 hitting, 4 digs), the only Patriot who did not feature in the first two matches, began his intercollegiate career against the Buckeyes and enjoyed a successful debut despite the caliber of the opponent, making an impact on both the offensive and defensive ends.
-It took the No. 1 team in the country to force redshirt sophomore middle blocker Langston Payne's first attacking error of the season, but he recovered and recorded five kills, still hitting an impressive .364. Payne also set a new career-high for total blocks with four (2 solo, 2 assists) against the Buckeyes, which was also a match-high performance.
HOW IT HAPPENED
-Mason took the lead first with Payne's solo block on Blake Leeson, but Ohio State put together a string of points and pulled away 3-1 with an ace by Szerszen. Payne was the Patriots' most efficient player early on, picking up two kills and an additional solo block, but that was not enough to stop the Buckeyes from picking up the highest lead of the set at 8-4 with another successful play by Szerszen. Capitalizing on Ohio State's service errors and picking up two service aces themselves – through junior setter Brian Negron (23 assists) and sophomore outside hitter Kyle Barnes (1 kill, 2 digs), respectively – the Patriots clawed their way to tie the score at 9-9, the last time the teams were on level terms in the set. A solo block by Negron gave Mason some momentum and got the Patriots within one at 22-21 despite the Buckeyes having led by four at 19-15. However, Ohio State did not allow for late dramatics and ultimately settled the set from the service line as Driss Guessous (3 kill, 3 blocks) aced for the final point, 25-22.
-Although Ohio State took the first two points of the second set, the Patriots came out with their heads held high and the combination of efficient attack and resilient blocking led to a 5-1 Mason run, culminated with senior outside hitter Radoslav Popov's (8 kills, .357 hitting, 2 blocks) first solo block of the season, 5-3. Hosack's team continued playing well and had several more two-point leads, the last at 10-8 when Negron single-handedly blocked Szerszen, a play that triggered reaction from every Mason player and fan at the arena. Szerszen repaired his mistake with a kill right away and his French compatriot Maxime Hervoir added one immediately after to tie the score at 10 all and set up a first-to-15 situation in the second set. With their confidence back, the Buckeyes went on a 6-2 run to grab the most comfortable lead either team had in the set, but Mason went on a run on Gatling's serving sequence and a kill by Payne brought Ohio State's lead back to one, 17-16. There was more to the rollercoaster of a second set with a block by Johnson and Guessous making it 23-19 Ohio State before back-to-back kills by Popov and an attack error by Guessous forced the first timeout called the Buckeyes' head coach Pete Hansen at 23-22. When play resumed, Guessous redeemed himself by helping Johnson stop Popov at the net before Johnson recorded his and the Buckeyes' second ace of the set to send Ohio State into the 10-minute intermission two sets to the good, 25-22.
-Mason had the first eight leads of the third set, but kills from Reese Devilbiss (3 kills, 1 dig, 1 block) and Szerszen in succession allowed Ohio State to reach the 10-point mark first, 10-9. The exchange of points continued and the Patriots were on level terms with the Buckeyes three more times – Gatling's first collegiate kill for 10 all and Payne-Popov and Payne-Wilson blocks for 12 all and 13 all, respectively – before Ohio State went on a 3-0 run and forced a Hosack timeout, 16-13. A kill and an ace by Popov cut the lead to one but as it happened many times over the course of the match, the Buckeyes responded to fire with more fire and two Szerszen kills, a Devilbiss block and a Shawn Hughes later, the Patriots found themselves trailing by five and with no timeouts left, 22-17. Mason continued to fight and orchestrated a 3-0 run with a pair of Buckeye errors and a Wilson kill to force Hansen into another late-set timeout. After the 75-second pause, Ohio State's three most influential players in the match – Szerszen, Johnson, and Guessous – picked up a kill each to settle the set at 25-21 and with that the contest.
"I am happy in the way that my guys fought, but I think we left a few points on the table in each game that could have been the turning point." – Mason's head coach Jay Hosack
"[Ohio State is] a good team and they are going to win a lot of matches just because they don't make a lot of mistakes. Their hitters are always available and always making swings."
"I think that tonight a few of our guys learned that when the things are not going their way and they get a ball in front of them, they can't play patty cake with it. Learning lessons like this is what we have to do to be successful at the end of the day."
"Despite the four losses I have suffered and all other adversities I have faced at the St. John Arena, this will always be a special place for me because I played my first match as a Patriot here." – Mason's senior outside hitter Radoslav Popov
"I think that the 3-0 result tonight is deceiving because the sets were close and Ohio State is simply a very good team, possibly the best right now. As always, we will learn from this loss, continue to improve and hopefully I will get one last chance to win here."
NEXT ON THE COURT
In its road trip finale, Mason will open EIVA play against Charleston (W.Va.) at 7 p.m. on Thursday.