Held together by an overarching desire to display excellence and a humble confidence that it can overcome all, the Ohio State men’s volleyball team has stayed consistent amid its journey near the top of the national rankings.
After a blistering run through many of the nation’s premier teams, OSU is now perched just a notch below the top of the coaches rankings and at the peak of the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association standings.
The Buckeyes (23-3, 13-1) are on a run of wins dating all the way back to early February. Since then, the Scarlet and Gray have accumulated 15 consecutive wins. That run, which is the longest the program has had since 2011, has carried the Scarlet and Gray to the No. 2 spot in the Week 13 national rankings, only trailing BYU with seven first-place votes to the Cougars’ nine. At one point, in the Week 11 poll, the Buckeyes were slotted at the very top.
“It’s awesome. In the years that I’ve been here this is the best team that I have been on and I love every second of it,” said redshirt junior outside hitter Alex Judkins. “We’re pretty humble about it (because) it’s just a number, really.”
The team is trying not to get too high or low because of the ranking, yet it can’t help but have an immense feeling of positivity in regards to its current situation.
“I think the only expectation we have is to play up to the level of play we’ve set for ourselves,” said OSU coach Pete Hanson. “We just have to make sure we can continue to move forward from whatever happens.”
This humble mentality is one that permeates through his players. The group is striving to maintain the ability to keep one’s mind clear, yet have a strong enough focus on the impending hurdle, only thinking about the next opponent and not the energy surrounding the event.
“The team is excited right now, but we don’t want it to get to our heads,” said senior outside hitter Peter Edwards. “We have to continue to play well because it only puts a target on our back having that (ranking).”
The players have taken on the focused mentality that the coach challenged them to obtain, keeping only in mind the next opponent and how they will go about trying to beat it.
A facet of the team that helps to sustain the strong bond between the unit is the confidence that someone will step up each night and bring whatever is needed to the table in order to win. The team knows that each member is equally important if it’s going to succeed consistently and stay on the winning path.
“It allows the team to be consistent even when the players are inconsistent,” Edwards said. “You need the team to continue to play well and it doesn’t put pressure on one person or two people to play well.”
Although the Buckeyes are able to rely on the sum of the parts rather than a lone player, the Scarlet and Gray have had impressive individual performers this season.
Sophomore outside hitter Nicolas Szerszen and junior outside hitter Miles Johnson have received national recognition this season for their head-turning play on the court. Johnson is one of only 15 players in OSU history to be honored with the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s national player of the week award. Szerszen is a multi-time recipient of the MIVA’s offensive player of the week award. Meanwhile, Junior outside hitter Gabriel Domecus has also garnered MIVA defensive player of the week honors.
The Buckeyes have taken down multiple highly ranked teams on their current streak, legitimizing their record. OSU defeated then-No.1 Long Beach State on March 12, while also toppling two-time defending national champion Loyola twice. On March 25, OSU took down No. 9 Ball State to grab possession of first place in the MIVA. Then, on Tuesday night, the Buckeyes swept No. 11 Penn State to keep their ship sailing smooth.
Going into games with such high-profile opponents isn’t something the Buckeyes back down from, Hanson said. Instead, they approach those games, as well as the whole season, with a “why not us?” mindset.
“Why let somebody else do it if we’re right there and knocking on the door?” Hanson said.