Twelve games into the Ohio State men’s volleyball season, head coach Kevin Burch noticed the opposing team heckling one of his players.
Members of the Lewis squad began yelling at junior outside hitter Martin Lallemand in the second set to try and “mess with his head,” Burch said.
“It was all harmless, but the fact that they were so intimidated by one of my players was interesting to me,” Burch said. “This happened more and more as the season went on, and that’s when I realized how big of a deal he was.”
Lallemand led the Buckeyes with 206 kills, 17 aces, 104 digs and 246 points in 2020, making this season the best of his athletic career as he has developed into a leader for Ohio State.
But just a few years ago in his native country of Belgium, Lallemand wasn’t even considering a route to collegiate sports in America.
“There’s no such thing as college sports back home, so I never even thought that playing in college would be an option for me,” Lallemand said. “My dad is the one that told me to consider moving to the United States to play, and after thinking about it, I realized it could be fun and a good experience for me.”
Eventually, a series of highlight videos found their way to former Ohio State head coach and three-time national champion Pete Hanson, who hurried to get in contact with the 6-foot-4 prospect.
“I remember as a high school volleyball player, I was obsessed with becoming stronger and bigger, and maybe that was just because I was a pretty timid guy,” Lallemand said. “But when he told me about the large amounts of lifting and workouts he had the team do on a daily basis, that was what really caught my attention.”
Still, Lallemand’s quiet demeanor made it far-fetched that he would become a source of vocal leadership for the Buckeyes. But redshirt junior outside hitter Tyler Alter said the Belgian player has done a 180 during his time at Ohio State.
“I remember taking Martin under my wing when he first moved here, because I was a sophomore when he was a freshman,” Alter said. “I got to watch him go from the most timid guy to the strongest and loudest leader on our team. His transition as a player and as a person has been incredible to watch.”
Lallemand said that although his family is thousands of miles away, his team has become his second family.
“They took me in as one of their brothers from the very beginning,” he said. “I absolutely love my teammates. They constantly encourage me every step of the way. I wouldn’t be at this point in my athletic career without them.”
Statistically, Lallemand is Ohio State’s best player. But his teammates look to him for more than just production.
“He would never admit to this, but he’s also our emotional leader,” redshirt junior outside hitter Tyler Alter said. “When he gets excited, everyone gets excited. When he’s pumped, everyone’s pumped. It’s just how it is.”
Lallemand has learned to balance his collegiate sport schedule with enrollment in industrial and systems engineering. He was deemed a Scholar-Athlete in 2018 and ’19 for his success on the court and in the classroom, and was named a Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Academic All-Conference athlete.
The COVID-19 outbreak kept Lallemand from putting a stamp on the latter half of his third year at Ohio State, but come next spring, there’ll be no question as to who will be leading the way for the Buckeyes.