Much like many of the other teams across Ohio State athletics, the No. 5 men’s volleyball team (5-2) has a history of excellence. After all, the Buckeyes are back-to-back national champions.
But this year, Ohio State has dropped two early-season matches, one against No. 6 BYU on Jan. 13 and one to No. 2 UCLA on Jan. 20. After its second loss in five games into the season, the Buckeyes’ chances of winning the conference and qualifying for the NCAA championships seemed unfavorable.
Head coach Pete Hanson said after his team’s loss to UCLA this season will not be a repeat their 2017 season.
“We’re not going to go 32-2, you know? Let’s put that to bed right now. We’re going to lose some more matches this year just because of who we are. We’re different than we were last year,” Hanson said on Jan. 25. “It’s not about what your record is when you get to the tournament. It’s, ‘Can you win three or four matches in a row, the last three or four matches of the season and become a national champion?’”
Ohio State faced challengers Saint Francis and No. 9 Penn State on Jan. 25 and Sunday, respectively, sweeping both teams 3-0. The Buckeyes claimed their first top-15 win against Penn State.
Though his team has a top-15 win and is sitting at 5-2, Hanson said Tuesday the 2018 team has yet to reach its full potential, though it’s not too far off. He said the new group of starters are still working to learn to play together and trust one another, a process that takes more than a few weeks.
“You have to begin to develop that trust with a teammate in terms of, in a certain situation, what are the expectations for the guy next to you or the guy two spots away from you, and for the last three years we had that same group of guys together,” Hanson said.
Redshirt junior middle blocker Blake Leeson added to Hanson’s sentiment, saying much of the team’s improvement will come from adjusting to having four new starters and learning each other’s style of play.
“Once you figure out how everyone functions and how they play, you can start balancing them out and complementing each other’s strengths and helping to boost each other’s weaknesses,” Leeson said. “I think that we’re not even close to the top of the bell curve.”
Though they have not yet reached their full potential, the Buckeyes are winning matches. Hanson said challenging their opponent’s offense so Ohio State can be the aggressors of the match is something they do well.
“If you’re going to ask an opposing coach, ‘hey, what does Ohio State bring to the table?’” he said. “I think they’re going to tell you that we’re going to serve the ball very aggressively, we’re going to try to put their offense under a lot of pressure and create opportunities to score with our block and with our transition defense.”
While one of Ohio State’s strengths might be the offense, Hanson said its defense is the biggest step it can take as a group to take control of the game and score more points.
Hanson said looking forward, the top three teams he anticipates playing are Lewis University, Loyola University and Ball State. Because all three schools are in the MIVA conference with Ohio State, winning the matches is imperative for the prospects for the conference playoffs to be held at St. John Arena.
Ohio State travels to Charleston, West Virginia, for a matchup against Charleston at 7 p.m. Friday.