From being a 19-year-old college sophomore coaching 17-year-old girls, to working with the Belize National Team while in the Peace Corps, volleyball kept finding its way into Geoff Carlston’s life.
While the sport has been a constant for the Plymouth, Minn., native, Carlston said he never expected early on to make a career out of coaching.
“I can’t sit here and say I planned this out,” he said. “That would be a flat out lie.”
Although he is now leading the women’s volleyball program at Ohio State, Carlston also spent time coaching at Concordia University, St. Paul (Minn.) and Ohio University before landing in Columbus. Prior to those stops, he led the 17 and under Minnesota One Junior Olympic club to the U.S. nationals for three straight years and was the head coach of the women’s Belize National Team while serving in the Peace Corps. He helped them earn the country’s first international victories and finished fourth in the Central America championship in 1997.
He took over a Concordia program in 2000 that was 0-18 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference the year before. In just his third season at Concordia the team finished with a 24-9 record, making a run at the conference championship.
The University of Minnesota graduate headed to Athens to take over the Ohio program in 2003, finishing each of his five seasons with single digit losses. His best mark came in 2005 when the team finished 33-3.
From there, Carlston has turned the Buckeyes into a perennial contender in the Big Ten, picking up career victory No. 300 on the way against Green Bay in OSU’s second match the 2013 season at the NIU Invitational.
After the win, Carlston returned to the locker room to find his players greeting his arrival with noisemakers and cheers.
“I actually didn’t even know,” he said.
Senior defensive specialist Julianne Mandolfo said assistant coach Laura Benzing had the noisemakers in the locker room and told the team to go crazy.
“We started doing that and he was just awkwardly laughing,” Mandolfo said. “He didn’t know what was going on.”
Carlston said while success is always welcome, it has never been the most important thing to him.
“I love the whole experience of competitiveness, but also trying to figure out the puzzle of putting the team chemistry together,” he said.
Even though he has reached many achievements in his career, Carlston’s personal accomplishments take a back seat to the success of his players, Mandolfo said.
“He doesn’t even care about what he’s accomplished,” she said. “It’s nice knowing that all he cares about is the team.”
She added she is grateful to be part of such an accomplished program.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to be under such a great coaching staff,” Mandolfo said. “Knowing that he’s our head coach, I just feel grateful for it.”
Junior setter Taylor Sherwin said Carlston is concerned about his players’ lives on and off the court.
“He’s really concerned about our grades, (and) mentally and physically how we’re doing,” she said.
Mandolfo echoed her teammate.
“We’re very close off the court,” Mandolfo said. “I can call him for the littlest things and he always helps me out.”
In one word, sophomore middle blocker Andrea Kacsits described Carlston as “eccentric.”
“He’s very hippy-dippy,” Kacsits said. “It’s not uncommon to go into his office and see him without shoes on and just walking around.”
While he is laid-back off the court, Carlston’s attitude changes once the whistle blows.
“He’s very go with the flow off the court, but on the court he’s very inspired, very detail-oriented,” Kacsits said.
Carlston and the Buckeyes have fought their way to a 9-0 record to start the 2013 season and look to extend the streak this weekend at the Blue and White Classic in Buffalo, N.Y.
OSU is scheduled to take on Maryland Eastern Shore Friday at 4:30 p.m. before playing two matches Saturday against Valparaiso at 11 a.m. and Buffalo at 7 p.m.
The Buckeyes are set to return to Columbus Sept. 27 for a match against Michigan to open Big Ten season play.