Daniel Chi / Asst. photo editor
When Geoff Carlston first arrived on Ohio State’s campus in 2008 as the women’s volleyball coach, few questioned his success or experience in volleyball.
What most people don’t know is how Carlston ended up coaching volleyball.
On most occasions, when people want something, they go after it. For Carlston it was the exact opposite, as volleyball kept finding him. Even though Carlston coached a junior Olympic team at the age of 21, he had no intention of becoming a volleyball coach.
“I was 21, coaching at that early age and really had a great time with it,” Carlston said. “And really, I didn’t think a lot about it. After I graduated, I rode my motorcycle around the country and was a ski bum. I was in the Peace Corps, and ended up with a bunch of traveling, and volleyball just kept finding me even when I was in there.”
In 1993, Carlston graduated from the University of Minnesota with an undergraduate degree in speech communication but quickly found himself in school a second time, cementing his path to becoming a volleyball coach.
“Mike Hebert was at the University of Minnesota, and he had been a Peace Corps volunteer and asked me to come be his volunteer,” Carlston said. “So I was a volunteer assistant there when I was getting my master’s at Minnesota.”
During Carlston’s two seasons as a student assistant coach, the Gophers compiled a 27-9 record and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Carlston went from collecting gold and bronze medals in Holland to being named the Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year four times at Ohio University and, after five years at Ohio, he came back to the Big Ten.
“I was excited because you look up on the wall in the gym and you see Michigan State, Michigan, Minnesota and Purdue,” Carlston said. “I grew up in the Big Ten, so first of all it was cool to be a part of this. The coaches that I looked up to forever such as Mike Hebert … to be coaching against them and to be coaching in the same conference was pretty cool.”
After finishing with a 12-20 overall record with a 3-17 mark in the Big Ten in his first full season at OSU, Carlston revitalized the team by winning 25 games the very next season and brought the team back to the NCAA Tournament. In the next two seasons, the Buckeyes won 20-plus games and were invited to two more NCAA Tournament appearances. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 15 this year, with a 17-7 overall record.
“I’m really proud of how far we have come when we were 3-17,” Carlston said.
In his 12 years as a volleyball coach, Carlston has received many accolades, including Coach of the Year. But he said the satisfaction he gets from his job means more to him than any awards he receives.
“I love (volleyball) because … you never know what exactly you’re going to get, which can be stressful on some days, but I love the variety,” Carlston said. “You get to wear a lot of different hats. I mean one day you have to be tough – you have to be the mom, you have to be the dad, you have to be the counselor because you’re dealing with 15 young ladies’ lives.”
Senior outside hitter Emily Danks, senior middle blocker Mariah Booth and senior setter Amanda Peterson, who are part of his first recruiting class at OSU, have expressed that Carlston is more than just their coach. He was everything they needed him to be, and then some.
“Geoff has influenced me in so many facets of my life,” Danks said. “Throughout my time in this program, I’ve learned things far beyond the realm of serving and blocking. He certainly helped me develop my game, but more importantly, he continuously pushed me out of my comfort zone to develop into a stronger, more confident leader.”
One of Peterson’s fondest memories of Carlston happened off the court, during a trip to Hawaii, when the coach encouraged his players to be adventurous.
“One of my favorite memories is when we played in last year’s preseason in Hawaii. Geoff let us jump off the cliffs into the ocean,” Peterson said. “I’m guessing that most coaches would instead stifle his players for fear that they would get hurt, but Geoff encourages us to conquer new experiences.”
Booth said her favorite memory of her coach was during a preseason retreat, where she shared simple, yet meaningful moments with him.
“He and I sat on the couch and played puzzle games before dinner,” Booth said.
In every sport, athletes come and go. Carlston said he can’t believe that his seniors, whom he handpicked, are all grown up and will soon graduate and move on to bigger things in life.
“The senior class has really allowed me to remember when they were freshman. It seems like 100 years ago,” Carlston said. “They’ve come a long way; we’ve come a long way as a staff and as a program.”
Carlston said knowing the impact he’s having on his young players is the best thing about being a coach.
“A lot of times, two to three years down the road when they will come back or you’ll get a letter, or you’ll get a parent come up to you and say … just say some amazing things,” Carlston said. “How you have impacted their daughter, or the players come back and say you did this for me and I really appreciate it.”
Carlston said being a coach is not just about the numbers.
“Like any teacher, (statistics) are the things that sustain you because you never really know at times,” Carlston said. “You’re just in it, you’re competing all the time and you’re trying to push them to be better than what they even think they can be. When they come back and say, ‘Hey, you really made a difference,’ it just reminds you why you do it.”
The day is coming when Danks, Booth and Peterson will hang their jerseys up, and there will be certain things they will miss about having Carlston as their coach.
“I think what I’ll miss the most about Geoff is how he always keeps us on our toes,” Danks said. “Whether it’s the drills we do in practice, new gear or surprise days off, he always finds a way to mix things up and keep it interesting and fun.”
Carlston doesn’t know how long he will coach at OSU, or what his future holds.
“I mean winning a national championship would be great, and that is always our goal, but ultimately that’s not the lasting stuff, it’s the impact you had on your players,” Carlston said. “So I’m hoping as kids leave our program and look back they say that Geoff really di
d make a difference in my life. That’s important to me, I’m not going to lie and say it’s not because it is.”
Danks said Carlston’s favorite saying is “carpe diem,” which is Latin for “seize the day.”
“He lives by that every day,” Danks said, “and encourages us to do the same.”