Grand Canyon dropped a heartbreaking 3-2 match to defending national champion Ohio State at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio Thursday.
GCU (15-13, 5-4) lost by set scores of 22-25, 25-14, 26-24, 23-25, 15-7 to the 10th-ranked Buckeyes (17-8, 7-3).
The Antelopes won the opening set and had a chance to take a 2-1 lead in the third. GCU led 24-21, but the Buckeyes thwarted off three set points to go on to win the set. Grand Canyon finished with four errors, three attack errors and one service error.
“They handled the end game (in the third set) better than us,” said GCU coach Jeremy Price.
GCU, the nation leader in digs per set (10.05), had 23 in the set, including nine by libero Trent Bruns, who finished with a match-best 15. Outside hitter Ben Ponnet and setter Keith Smith each had 14 digs for the match.
“We played really well defensively,” said Price, noting a few of the junior libero’s dramatic saves into the bleachers. “You have to do that to be successful at this level.
“I’m proud of how we bounced back and won the fourth set.”
Digs were key in the fourth set, too, as GCU went on a 3-0 run to tie the set 19-19. Bruns kept the ball alive at 23-23 and set Ponnet for the go-ahead point, 24-23. The set ended when Smith and middle hitter Ryan Mather blocked Ohio State All-American Sean Sangrey’s attack. Grand Canyon had 14 digs in the set, five from Ponnet.
GCU led 4-2 in the fifth, before Ohio State went on a 6-0 run.
“Give credit to Ohio State, they put pressure on our serve receive and blocked a lot of our attacks. They played their best set in the fifth,” said Price.
Ohio State finished with 16.5 blocks to GCU’s 5.5. Grand Canyon had 63 kills to Ohio State’s 56, but the Buckeyes had a better attack percentage (.261 to .171).
“We played close, but we weren’t sharp offensively,” said Price. “We’ve got to be more efficient offensively (Friday). We’ve got to play better and expect to play better tomorrow night.”
Ohio State extended its lead in the MIVA to one-half game over Lewis and Loyola Chicago. GCU dropped to one and one-half games back with three to go.
Ponnet and Jordon Tarantino, who got the ‘Lopes off to a good start with six first-set kills, led GCU with 17 kills each, but both also had 12 hitting errors. Taylor Griffin had 10 kills. Taylor Galliano was the most efficient offensive player with seven kills and only one error in 14 attempts (.429). Mather had eight kills and four block assists. Smith had 55 assists and went over the 1,000-set mark (1,006) for the season. Ponnet added a pair of service aces. Ben Hunt added five first-set digs.
The teams play again Friday at 4 p.m. Live stats, audio and video (for a fee) will be provided by the host school. Links to the live coverage are available at www.GCULopes.com.