This season, the Ohio State men’s volleyball team has had to replace decorated seniors, work through injuries and experience tough losses. But none of these challenges measure up to the tests it faces this weekend.
The Buckeyes (4-6) continue their five-match road trip in Long Beach, California, on Friday, when they take on No. 6 UC Santa Barbara (9-3) and No. 1 Long Beach State (10-0).
The Buckeyes are reeling after a straight-set loss to No. 15 Purdue Fort Wayne on Tuesday for their second straight conference loss.
Junior outside hitter Jake Hanes and senior setter Sanil Thomas did not play in the match due to injury, and will not play in either of the upcoming matches.
Head coach Pete Hanson said injuries have taken a toll on his team’s flow during the game.
“I think our guys are a little bit shaken mentally, not having Jake and having lost Sanil,” Hanson said. “It’s just been kind of topsy turvy and you can’t get a rhythm established when you can’t keep the same guys on the floor all the time.”
Both UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State have been anything but topsy turvy this season.
The Gauchos are coming off of back-to-back road victories against then-No. 3 BYU in six straight sets. Senior outside hitter Corey Chavers collected 33 kills and six aces in the two matches.
Long Beach State has only lost one set in its 10 matches this season, a 25-19 third set against USC. Senior opposite hitter Kyle Ensing and senior outside hitter TJ DeFalco lead the team with 106 kills each, adding 21 and 17 aces, respectively.
In the face of tough competition, Hanson said the message he’s trying to get across to his players this weekend is building confidence.
“We’re talking to our guys about, ‘Hey you can’t worry about the end result right now. We have to worry about the process,’” Hanson said. “Let the chips fall where they may, and just build some confidence in what we’re doing. It might result in a win, it might not, but let’s kind of get our feet underneath us and get going a little bit.”
Freshman setter Luke Lentin will start his second and third matches, respectively, this weekend after beginning his Buckeye career on Tuesday against Purdue Fort Wayne.
Prior to Tuesday, Lentin was injured with a concussion, forcing him to miss three matches.
“I had one full day of practice before I came back on the court,” Lentin said. “But I think I’ve worked myself into it.”
This weekend brings more than an opportunity to get back out on the court for Lentin: it brings home.
Lentin is originally from La Jolla, California, just 95 miles from Walter Pyramid where the Buckeyes will play their matches.
“I’m really excited to get back home, back to my home state,” Lentin said. “Maybe it’ll make me feel a little more comfortable setting on the court.”
Ohio State will play UC Santa Barbara at 7 p.m. on Friday and Long Beach State at 10 p.m. on Saturday in Long Beach, California.