Ohio State senior middle blocker Elle Sandbothe (19) prepares to block the ball with sophomore outside hitter Mia Grunze (3) during the game against Michigan on Oct. 6. Ohio State lost 0-3. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics

When senior middle hitter Elle Sandbothe decided she needed a fresh start for her final year of collegiate volleyball, the decision to attend Ohio State was a no-brainer because of a connection that ran deeper than the sport. 

Her older sister, Taylor Sandbothe, played for the Buckeyes from 2013-16 under head coach Geoff Carlston and said she was excited to learn her younger sister would finish her collegiate experience at her alma mater.

“Throughout my whole volleyball experience, my sister has been someone who I looked up to and who’s advised me on the game and in life in general, so coming here and wearing her colors of scarlet and gray was crazy for her to see. It was special for all of us,” Elle Sandbothe said.

Starting at Kansas State, Elle Sandbothe fine-tuned her skills and grew as a player, yet as she neared her last year of collegiate eligibility, she said she needed a change of scenery and a new place to advance her play.

Carlston has known Elle Sandbothe since she was 14 years old because of Taylor, who put her former coach in contact with Elle when she was looking to transfer.

“The reality was we were looking for someone just like her,” Carlston said. “A senior with experience, more depth in the middle, so it was actually a really good fit.”

In addition, Elle Sandbothe said her decision was largely influenced by the fact that she was already familiar with Columbus, Carlston and Ohio State in general. That familiarity helped with the transition.

“When she went through that process of wanting to transfer and even when she was just considering Ohio State I was completely ecstatic,” Taylor Sandbothe said.

Though having that initial knowledge of the team and Carlston helped with her transition, Elle Sandbothe said she still had to put in the time and effort to smooth the transition.

“The group at Kansas State, I had been playing with them for a long time so there was trust and now coming here with a new group of girls I obviously had to create trust, create new relationships,” Elle Sandbothe said. “It came down to finding a level of comfort with a whole new group of girls on and off the court.”

This was something Carlston encouraged Elle Sandbothe to do as a part of her transition process. He wanted her to make new connections with the team and focus on fitting in with team chemistry without changing too much of the style and technique she learned at Kansas State — which she did easily, Carlston said.

“She fits in great with our team. It didn’t take her long to build that trust,” Carlston said.

Not only was team chemistry one of Carlston’s priorities, but it was one of Elle Sandbothe’s. She said she knew that in order to create trust, she needed to create a bond with the team on an individual basis.

“I like to create my own specific relationship with each girl on the team so we have this special thing that creates our relationship, our bond on the court,” Elle Sandbothe said. “Focusing on the little things that create our big team.”

Elle Sandbothe said she is thankful for this transition because the challenge of reinventing her game with a new team has challenged her as a leader and player. As of Oct. 12, she has played in 53 sets and collected 107 kills and five blocks on the season.

Taylor Sandbothe said this experience has been special for her as well. She returned to Ohio State Sept. 19 for the alumni game to surprise her sister and was emotional at the sight of Elle in the same colors she once wore.

“I was standing in the crowd, and the first moment I saw her, and she was wearing the jersey, and I honestly cried like a baby,” Taylor Sandbothe said. “It was unreal to see her in that environment and to see her alongside girls that I used to play with and to see her next to Geoff and representing the school, yet still making it her own.”

Now that they have this additional connection through Ohio State, both Sandbothes said it adds a deeper bond to their relationship. Taylor Sandbothe enjoys being able to relate to her sister and provide first-hand support given that she has had many of the same experiences that Elle is having now.

“She could be playing anywhere, and our bond would still be strong, and it would still be her and I against the world like it’s always been,” Taylor Sandbothe said.

Carlston, who has now coached both girls at the same position, has had to adjust to coaching Elle Sandbothe and said he is committed to giving her a unique experience at Ohio State.

“They both play with a lot of fire. They both play the game. They’re both very competitive. They both are super athletic,” Carlston said. “But they’re very different people, different personalities, different motivations; you have to coach them differently.”

Moving forward, Carlston is looking for Elle Sandbothe to keep growing, leading and assuming her place as a senior on the Buckeyes. He said her legacy at Ohio State will be showing the younger players on the team how to play in high-pressure moments.

“It’s been hard to focus individually when I’ve been so focused on our goal of making the tournament as a team,” Elle Sandbothe said. “Now that I’ve finally been able to get back into the groove of things and feel like myself again on the court again, I just want to focus on consistency and making sure I can continue to benefit my team execution-wise.”

Elle Sandbothe’s goals largely reflect the wisdom her sister imparted on her before she came to Ohio State. Though she is attending the same university as Taylor, Elle is committed to leaving her own impact.

“I think my biggest advice to her was, ‘How do you want to remember your senior year, how do you want to create the end of your collegiate journey?’ Because that’s all that really matters at this point,” Taylor Sandbothe said.