A fourth-grade soccer player in St. Louis was sitting at her neighbor’s volleyball game accompanied by her father, Donn, when she had a change of heart.
Hannah Gruensfelder would give volleyball a try.
“After that I started to [pick up] a volleyball and just try it out, and since then I fell in love with the game,” she said.
Gruensfelder rapidly improved and eventually became the starting libero at her high school, St. Joseph Academy (St. Louis), for all four years. She eventually earned a scholarship to Ohio State.
Now in her freshman season in Columbus, Gruensfelder is coach Geoff Carlston’s top defensive specialist, playing in all 29 sets to date and has even set a program record.
Last Sunday, in a 3-1 loss at Notre Dame, Gruensfelder tallied 38 digs, the most in a four-set match in Ohio State history. Her record eclipsed graduated libero Valeria Leon’s 35 digs against Arizona in 2015.
Her accomplishment earned Gruensfelder the distinction of co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week. When her team congratulated her, Gruensfelder was surprised to learn she had earned the accolade.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting it. It wasn’t really anything that I was striving to get, it just kind of happened,” Gruensfelder said. “I think that it’s going to drive me to do even better because I want to push harder now and break those, but it was really cool.”
Gruensfelder’s achievement marks the eighth time an Ohio State player has earned a Big Ten Freshman of the Week distinction since 2009.
“It was great for her. She’s worked hard and she deserved it,” Carlston said.
Carlston was also happy to see the bond that Leon, who also owns the school record for most career digs, formed with Gruensfelder earlier this week.
“I think that’s a big part of our program. It’s that legacy and passing it on and the mentorship, so it’s kind of cool that earlier that week they talked and went out for breakfast,” Carlston said.
Gruensfelder has averaged five digs per set and was responsible for 7.4 digs per set in last weekend’s games.
“It’s not that I’m trying to hit a certain amount of digs,” Gruensfelder said. “[I’m] always trying to just make sure that I’m getting every ball that I can and preparing myself in practice for the different teams we’re playing.”
Gruensfelder knows the team relies on her in the big moments.
“I’ve been really trying to step up so that we can get that set, we can get that hit and we can make it pretty far in the Big Ten and in the season,” Gruensfelder said. “I’m really trying to play for them and make sure that I can get them the best balls that they can handle.”
Gruensfelder has been studying opposing teams, trying to learn the different ways she can take on each individually.
The freshman libero said she takes pride in the good chemistry of the team and how close they have become, but also admits it can be a weakness during practices.
“It’s hard to hold each other accountable or get really tough in practice because you are so close and you don’t want to hurt other people when you’re yelling at them or trying to push them really hard,” Gruensfelder said. “I think that once we get past that point and none of us take it personally, we’re going to be really great.”
Gruensfelder’s passion for the game has shown through her effort and enthusiasm, her coach said.
“She doesn’t get rattled for a freshman. You don’t have to massage her through the pressure. She’s a no-nonsense type of a player,” Carlston said. “I think her chemistry and her [willingness], and kind of wanting that moment has been pretty impressive for a young player.”
Gruensfelder said she understands the struggles of being a freshman, but finds great support in her teammates.
“I know a lot of freshman just kind of don’t know what they’re doing, but we have these girls that have our backs every second and they’re kind of telling us how to go about things,” Gruensfelder said.
Ohio State plays Western Kentucky at noon and Northern Illinois at 7:30 p.m. Friday at St. John Arena, with an in-state showdown against Dayton Saturday at 3 p.m. in Bexley, Ohio.