After four years playing under Ohio State head men’s volleyball coach Pete Hanson, one memory sticks out in Sanil Thomas’ mind: the pregame speech before the 2016 National Championship.
A freshman at the time, Thomas had spent most of his first season as a Buckeye backing up star junior setter Christy Blough, who had totalled 1,232 assists during the 2016 season and would finish his career with 4,280 assists, ranking him No. 5 in program history for the category.
In the biggest match for the Buckeyes since the 2011 National Championship, it was unlikely Thomas would see the floor, except for the occasional substitution to serve.
Nevertheless, Hanson’s pregame speech was special for Thomas.
“Honestly, I don’t even remember the exact theme of the speech or whatever it was, but I just know I was ready to play,” Thomas said. “And I wasn’t even playing. I was on the bench, and I was just fired up.”
Hanson is known for his passion for the game of volleyball. This summer, he’ll be recognized for that dedication in front of a hometown crowd.
On May 22, Hanson will be inducted into the USA Volleyball Hall of Fame in Columbus, among a group of 25 other volleyball legends. He’ll be honored with the Donald S. Shondell All-Time Great Coach Award in the contemporary division.
Hanson is already a two-time Hall of Fame inductee — the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015 and the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017.
He’s served as the head coach for the men’s volleyball team at Ohio State for 35 seasons starting in 1985, winning three national championships and accruing only five losing seasons during that span.
His teams have won 702 of their 1,042 matches for a .674 winning percentage, including a 63-5 stretch over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, which featured the longest winning streak in Ohio State history for a head-to-head sport.
Prior to his coaching career, which includes five years at the University of Wyoming and a year at Ball State, Hanson played at Kellogg Community College under head coach Mick Haley.
Hanson said Haley was one of his earliest influences as both a player and a future coach.
“[He] influenced me a lot about how to compete,” Hanson said. “You just needed to compete hard. You needed to get in there and grind for points and challenge the guys across the net … Mick was a very competitive individual, and I think I had that in me, but he kind of kept challenging us to bring that out.”
In college, Haley was a setter under Ball State coach Donald Shondell, the legendary coach, who the award Hanson is being given is associated with.
Hanson first got his start in volleyball after his father got him and a few other boys at their local church to start a middle-school league in his hometown of Flint, Michigan.
“It just was a sport that resonated with me for some reason. I had played other sports,” Hanson said. “We formed a group of kids that stayed together, and it just grew from there, and three of us went to college together and just started playing, and so, lo and behold, here I am.”
Tim Embaugh, who has been by Hanson’s side for the past 28 seasons as an assistant coach, said Hanson’s coaching influence extends beyond the collegiate level.
Embaugh said Hanson has participated with multiple USA programs, including volunteering during the Atlanta Olympics, coaching the World University Games teams and participating with the youth and junior national teams.
“He’s got a long history of not just college volleyball, but also USA Volleyball,” Embaugh said.
Hanson has served as an assistant coach for various U.S. national team events from 1986-89 and 1994-95, including the National Sports Festival, the Olympic Sports Festival and the National Elite Junior Training Camp. He also served as head coach for the U.S. in the Olympic Sports Festival in 1989, the Junior Continental Championships in 2012 and the Men’s U-21 World Championship in 2013.
Hanson said he puts a lot of value in learning from coaches and players around the world.
“There’s good volleyball played around the world,” Hanson said. “Being exposed to other countries and other training methods and how they’re playing the game and the fact that they might train it differently, but they might train it very successfully, clearly expanded my vision and the way I looked at the game.”
Hanson said this award, his third Hall of Fame induction, says more about the players and the teams he’s had at Ohio State than anything he’s accomplished himself. He praised the success of the program and what’s been achieved over the course of his tenure, but he avoids connecting himself to that success.
Sanil Thomas does the opposite.
“Being in the Hall of Fame once obviously is a feat in and of itself. To do it three times is something just surreal and something crazy,” Thomas said. “I think what you wouldn’t expect is the same — I would imagine, the same amount of passion he brought day one he brings that passion day — a lot; it’s a lot of days. That’s why he deserves this more than anyone.”