STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Three Ohio State Buckeyes rose to the net for the block on UC Santa Barbara that sealed a thrilling five-set victory and an NCAA championship.
Score one for volleyball east of the Rocky Mountains.
Shawn Sangrey had a game-high 30 kills and the Buckeyes overcame a sloppy start to beat UC Santa Barbara 20-25, 25-20, 25-19, 22-25, 15-9 on Saturday night for their first men's volleyball title.
It's just the third time a team outside of the West has claimed the title. Penn State won in 1994 and 2008.
"Wow, this is a great night for Ohio State and Ohio State men's volleyball," said coach Pete Hanson, who closed his 28th season as the Buckeyes' coach with his first title after two previous losses in the final. "Hopefully we've added another element to the Ohio State volleyball legacy."
The Gauchos (18-15) tied the match behind Jeff Menzel's stellar play at the net late in the fourth set. The fiery leader finished with 12 kills, but struggled for much of the night. Cullen Irons led UCSB with 16 kills.
Ohio State (26-6) responded in the fifth set, closing with a 5-0 run. The Buckeyes finished off UCSB with the block on Menzel assigned to Steven Kehoe and two other teammates that started Ohio State's victory party in Happy Valley.
Sitting next to the team's shiny new trophy, Kehoe flashed a sly grin when asked who actually should get the credit.
"I got it," he said with a smile, his teammates laughing. "The coaching staff said if we block him once the last five points, we'll win the match."
Menzel had been a huge part of UCSB's success this season, so Ohio State made stopping him a priority. The Gauchos limped into their conference tournament with a 14-14 record, only to win their next four matches to make an improbable run to the NCAA final.
Their previous two wins came against top-ranked Southern California, including one in the semifinals on Thursday night. The Gauchos had said all week they play their best when faced with elimination, and they came close to proving it again.
"We did something that no one thought we could. We made one of the biggest runs in college volleyball history," middle blocker Scott Slaughter said.
They pushed the Buckeyes to the limit, but Ohio State broke through in the final set. Sangrey's powerful right arm overwhelmed the Gauchos, and setter Kehoe deftly set up the offense with 65 assists. Kehoe won the tournament MVP award.
John Klanac added 15 kills for the Buckeyes, while Grayson Overman had 12 -- 10 in the final three sets.
Oh, and Klanac also gets to finally shave the "playoff beard" he had been growing the last few weeks.
"It's been itching me," the redshirt senior said as he rubbed his fuzzy chin.
The Buckeyes celebrated by singing the Ohio State alma mater in front of more than four dozen red-clad fans, rocking back and forth in unison while wearing their new black championships hats. It was an odd sight in Rec Hall on the campus of Penn State, a fierce Big Ten football rival.
After Ohio State's mistake-filled first set featuring nine service errors, the Buckeyes regrouped in an entertaining second set highlighted by terrific defense and long rallies. They pulled away with a 12-4 run that included four kills from Sangrey.
Ohio State struggled again in the fourth set, helping the Gauchos pull even. The Buckeyes finished with 26 service errors, but made up for it on the attack.
"It was a dogfight," Slaughter said. "What more could you ask for [in] a national championship fifth game?"
Tiny Lewis University, a Division II school in Romeoville, Ill., won the 2003 title but that was later vacated for using ineligible players.