Christy Blough still remembers his final game as an Ohio State men’s volleyball player vividly.
The Buckeyes defeated BYU 3-0 in May to claim their second-straight NCAA championship in front of a home crowd at St. John Arena. Blough felt only one emotion could fit the moment.
“I would just say overjoyed,” Blough said. “I mean, overwhelming joy just in the moment we got to play in front of our fans at home.”
After the confetti fell, reality set in for the senior setter. With his collegiate athletic career complete, Blough had a decision to make as to what the next chapter in his life would look like.
After ending his career ranked in the top five in Ohio State history for assists with 4,280, Blough had the experience necessary to pursue a professional volleyball career.
“It was always in the back of my head that maybe I’ll try and keep playing, you know, in Europe or something,” Blough said. “But I just had some injuries, and it just seemed like I was kind of limping my way through the end of the season last year, and maybe it was best to move on for my body’s sake.”
Blough turned his attention to helping others. After shadowing in the emergency wing at Nationwide Children’s Hospital during his junior year of college, the biomedical engineering major decided he would attend medical school at Ohio State. It has allowed Blough to remain a part of the volleyball team — as a student-coach.
The trip to the hospital was enlightening.
“I think that I saw the care and the relationships that these physicians were giving to pediatric patients especially,” Blough said. “Some of them were in such need that I just kind of found, I don’t want to say a calling, but something, a profession that I thought was maybe about as fulfilling a profession as I could find.”
When fall arrived and medical school began, Blough still found his way to St. John Arena in his spare time, rehabbing his right knee after having surgery during the offseason and working out with players who were still on the team.
Blough said he felt as though he never left. One day in the locker room after practice, Blough formed an idea that allowed him to stay around his former team.
“Some of the coaches were in the coaching office and they were joking around like, ‘Oh, you are staying here for medical school. Maybe you can come around and help us out,’” Blough said.
Blough said he was unsure of what his time commitment could be as a student in medical school. But as time went on and he became more comfortable with his schedule, the former starting setter decided he would return to the Buckeyes, not as a player, but as a volunteer assistant coach for the 2018 season.
Though head coach Pete Hanson said he felt Blough’s personality as a player translated well to coaching, the shift from the court to the sideline was strange not only for Blough, but the team.
“I think they kind of played along and gave me a hard time to start out with just because, you know, I was their teammate for some of them for three or four years,” Blough said. “I think it is a big change for them to see me on the sidelines too.”
Hanson said Blough’s major role on the sideline is to help with the offense, especially the setters. This is nothing new for starting junior setter Sanil Thomas, who played with Blough for the past two seasons.
Now, instead of Thomas watching Blough from the sideline, it is the other way around.
“Even last year, he [was] always giving me advice and help and stuff like that,” Thomas said. “Right now, the official role is as a coach, but he’s been doing that ever since I got here freshman year.”
As a former setter, Blough said he has a good idea of what opponents are doing with a better view of what is going on from the sideline. Blough is still adjusting to watching the game he played for most of his life from a different angle.
“I’m nowhere near being proficient in that at the level of coach Hanson, coach [Tim] Embaugh, coach [Kevin] Burch, who have done this for years,” Blough said. “I think it just gave me more of an appreciation for what they are able to do on a daily basis.”
Hanson said he feels Blough has been a great fit for the Buckeyes early in the 2018 season, though he recognizes Blough’s future as a coach is up to him and “we certainly want him to be involved.”
Blough said it might be too early to determine how long his coaching career will be.
“I think that I’ll keep giving back to the program and the game that did so much for me while I still can,” Blough said. “But it is hard to say when that window is going to close or stay open.”
With Blough attempting to balance both coaching and medical school, it is hard for those observing him to imagine how he manages his busy schedule. However, Thomas said it’s just his normal way of doing things.
“Seeing him and hearing that he is balancing medical school and a coaching position is mind-boggling for definitely the outsider,” Thomas said. “But if you know Christy Blough, you would understand.”