The Columbus Dispatch

Crew, Zelarayan agree to contract extension

- Jacob Myers

The face of the franchise isn’t going anywhere.

Attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayan signed a contract extension with the Crew that will keep him with the club through 2024, with a club option in 2025, the club announced Thursday.

The Crew now have Zelarayan under contract through age 33.

Already under contract for the 2022 season, Zelarayan and the Crew began discussion­s about extending the Argentine’s contract before Zelarayan ended the 2021 season on a tear, scoring five goals and three assists in the final five games.

The winner will play the winner of Tennessee and North Carolina at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Ohio State has taken another step forward this season after a surprising­ly successful, pandemic-shortened season in the spring.

The Buckeyes surprised the college volleyball world earning the No. 9 overall seed in coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg's first season with the program last season. They were an inexperien­ced team and lost in four sets to a Florida team that expects to compete for national championsh­ips every year.

That experience and winning multiple games against other national seeds — Washington, Purdue and Nebraska — has given the Buckeyes the confidence they've been looking for to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

“I think it was a surprise to a lot of people, including our squad, for how quickly the success happened,” Oldenburg said. “But then to see it translate into year two, I think it's proof that it wasn't a fluke.”

The Buckeyes finished the regular season with the second-highest hitting percentage and third-best opponent hitting percentage in the Big Ten, which is widely seen as the best conference in college volleyball. The Big Ten leads the country with eight teams in the 64-team NCAA field, five of which are national seeds hosting the first two rounds.

Podraza, who was named first-team all-big Ten with middle blocker Rylee Rader, leads the nation with 11.97 sets per game. Rader leads the conference and is fourth nationally with a .445 hitting percentage. Podraza said the strength of the team is its backcourt, led by libero Kylie Murr, which can often give Podraza a good ball to set to a talented line of hitters in Rader, Emily Londot and Gabby Gonzales.

“I don't think we've reached our peak. I think we're still climbing,” Podraza said. “I think we still have room to grow, which is a big thing to say in November, December. But I love where we're at.”

This is the first time Ohio State has grabbed a national seed in back-to-back seasons since 2004-06. The No. 9 seed ties last season as the highest seed since 2004, which is the last time Ohio State got past the regional semifinals. The Buckeyes haven't made a final four since 1994 and have never played for a national title.

If Ohio State gets out of the first weekend, the Buckeyes will likely travel to Louisville to face the winner of the regional at No. 8 Georgia Tech before possibly facing the No. 1 and unbeaten Cardinals. Unlike last season, this is an Ohio State team that expects to compete with the best.

“The conversati­ons heading into this week is why not us?” Oldenburg said. “We can play with anybody in the nation and we have the opportunit­y to do that, so let's take advantage of it.”

Murr said she saw a change after the loss to Minnesota. The Buckeyes went from being a team that thought it could be mentioned alongside the perennial championsh­ip contenders to actually believing it. It's up to them to prove it now and get to the final four at Nationwide Arena.

“I think going into this tournament, we want to prove to ourselves (we're good enough), but also of course that chip on our shoulder is we want to show everyone what we're made of and what we're capable of,” Murr said. “If they don't want to talk about it, we're going to show them.” @_jcmyers

 ?? NICOLAS GALINDO/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH ?? Lucas Zelarayan led the Crew with 12 goals and seven assists this season.
NICOLAS GALINDO/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Lucas Zelarayan led the Crew with 12 goals and seven assists this season.

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