The Ohio State women’s volleyball team has a new mantra coming into this season: tribe. It is a concept that the team was introduced to in February by Olympian Kerri Walsh-Jennings when she visited the program.
It was the saying Walsh-Jennings used during her Rio Olympics run with April Ross and means more than just coming together as a team.
“It goes beyond being teammates. It goes to being sisters,” senior middle blocker Kylie Randall said. “It creates a bigger bond between us, and it’s something we’re going to live and die by this year.”
The Buckeye sisterhood welcomed seven newcomers to the team this season, including six freshmen, as well as Abby Fesl.
Fesl is a senior transfer from the University of North Florida, who earned more than 2,400 assists during her time with the Ospreys.
“Abby’s added a lot of culture to our team,” OSU coach Geoff Carlston said. “It’s always great when you have a senior with that much experience coming in.”
Carlston praised the maturity of his veteran players and their part in helping to shape preseason attitudes.
“Our seniors are not juniors anymore, and I think they’ve really embraced that role,” Carlston said. “I think our returners have done a great job of mentoring and being patient with our younger players to get them on board.”
One of Carlston’s returnees already expected to make a big splash this season is senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe. She was named to the Preseason All-Big Ten Team on Tuesday morning for the second consecutive season.
Sandbothe finished her junior year with a .366 attacking efficiency and crashed into the top five in four different Ohio State women’s volleyball record categories.
“I love to see those things come out, especially before we’re even getting a chance to play as a team, kind of show what we’re about,” Sandbothe said. “It’s a huge honor, and I’m blessed to be a part of it.”
A goal echoed by multiple members of the team is to reach the NCAA Tournament Final Four, which will be held in Columbus this December. OSU has fallen in five sets in the regional semifinals the past two seasons.
“While we’re proud of sort of where we’ve come from, we also want to make that jump, but the reality is with our preseason schedule and our Big Ten schedule, we’ve got to stay super grounded in the daily grind of getting better,” Carlston said.
Sandbothe echoed his sentiments, emphasizing the team goal of playing in Nationwide Arena when December comes around.
The Buckeyes will put in their first weekend of work on Friday as they play Texas State, North Texas and Texas A&M — all unfamiliar teams to OSU — in the North Texas Challenge tournament.
Texas A&M poses a big threat, as it brought home the Southeastern Conference championship last season and pulled together for 14.09 kills per set. Texas State posted a 19-12 record in 2015, and is picked to be the Sun Belt Conference runner-up this season.
“I think we just have to be on our toes and willing to run down balls that wouldn’t necessarily happen in the Big Ten,” sophomore setter Taylor Hughes said.
Carlston is choosing to look at their lack of first-hand knowledge about this weekend’s teams as an unusual gift, as it allows his team to better examine and perfect their own skills and play.
“It’s actually kind of nice not to have a ton of video and a ton of stats. It’s pretty much just raw volleyball,” Carlston said. “For us, it’s really try to out-defend and whatever they give us, we’re ready for it.”
Carlston and the women’s volleyball tribe kick off their season at 1:30 p.m. on Friday against Texas State at the North Texas Volleyball Center in Denton, Texas.