There is a legitimate national championship contender at Ohio State, besides the teams on the football field and basketball court.
After losing its first two matches of the season, the No. 5 Ohio State men’s volleyball team (9-2, 3-0 MIVA) has won its last nine matches, including victories against No. 8 UC Irvine, No. 9 Penn State and Cal State Northridge in the last two weeks. In addition, the Buckeyes are in first place in the MIVA and received a first-place vote in both the coaches and media polls this week.
Off the Block conducted an interview earlier this week with Ohio State coach Pete Hanson to discuss his team’s recent success and the possibility of this being a national championship team.
Off the Block: We are about 10 matches in the season. How would you assess your team so far this season?
Pete Hanson: I think we are doing some nice things. It would have been nice to have one win more in the win column, if had won that second match in the Malibu at the start of the year. We started the season with matches against good teams and it got our guys focused coming out of the gate.
OTB: You lost your first two matches of the season against Pepperdine and since then you are on a nine-match winning streak. What changed with your team after the first week?
PH: I don’t know if anything dramatically changed. I think we started to be more consistent on offense, and a lot of a team’s success and failure is going to be the circumstances on that particular night. The venues are tough to play at on the road, and we are playing good teams. I think that is what helped us with the Penn State match on Wednesday, and Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine were playing 3,000 miles from home. As a whole, our guys have seen the outcome of those Pepperdine matches and know just a few plays can determine the outcome of a match, and we need to make those plays to win those matches.
OTB: In talking about playing more consistent on offense. What has your team been able to do these last few matches to become more consistent?
PH: I think it’s two things: one is passing to the setter and we got three sometimes four players who are good handing the ball on first contact. Then I think you look the next connect, and Steven Kehoe is fifth-year senior and an All-American. He is doing a nice job with running this team’s offense, finding who is the hot guy and getting him the ball and seeing where the defense is setting up their block. … Steven is playing at a high level and his maturity and experience show on the court. He works at his craft, and we reaping some of those benefits as a team.
OTB: When Kehoe came to Ohio State as a freshman did you think he would be playing at the level he has played this year?
PH: I think so. We saw Steven Kehoe throughout his high school career, and the one thing that always stood out is he is a extreme competitor. He’s a guy who puts individual things aside and plays for the team. There is also the fact all the teams he played on had a high level of success, whether it was high school or club. In all venues the kid wins, and I don’t think you can discount something like that with players. He has the mentality when he is on the court he will win. Steven brings that every day and it rubs off on the rest of team. That is what you want to have from a leader on the team and someone handling the volleyball.
OTB: Ohio State received a first-place vote in the coaches poll and media poll this week. Were you surprised that people are beginning to consider your team the best in the nation?
PH: It’s just one vote, and I don’t think multiple people are voting us No. 1. We know who that character is who voted us No. 1. He is a nice guy and wants to show some support for what our program is doing. We don’t put a lot of stock into the rankings. Where we are ranked, we don’t care. I don’t think the kids care and coaching staff doesn’t care. Every match were play is a critical to get where we want to be at the end of the year of winning the conference, getting to the Final Four and taking it one step further than we have the last few years. .. Outside perception of what the program is doing is something our guys don’t worry about, and I’m not worrying about it.
OTB: Is this team capable of becoming the first MIVA team to legally win a national title?
PH: That is the goal. Whether we get there or not I’m not sure. We are not going to get to play BYU and USC, those guys with Stanford are the top teams in the Mountain Pacific. It’s been proven out there anyone can beat anyone on any night. I think we are preparing our guys and scheduling matches so we can get to that point. I think the amount of seniors on this team bodes well for our opportunities. It’s really a crap shoot. There are good teams in our conference and things out of your control do happen when you get out there. A team gets injuries. A team gets hot at the right time, and we won’t get there. We are trying to control the things in our power to put guys in a position where we can do that.
OTB: Ohio State has won the last four MIVA regular season titles. Some people are saying they expect you to run the table in the MIVA. Is there that expectation among the players for you to go undefeated in conference play?
PH: I don’t looking further than Friday night in Muncie, Ind. If we are thinking about matches nine, 10 11, 12 we got priorities out of whack and probably deserve to loss. That isn’t happening frankly with this team. The beauty of this team is there is enough maturity to say, ‘hey last week we got three wins against Penn State and Quincy, but it doesn’t mean a hell of beans if we don’t play well tonight and play the volleyball we are capable of playing.’ … I think the guys have that kind of attitude that you are only as good as the next time you put on the uniform.
OTB: Outside attacker Shawn Sangrey is 10th in the nation with a 4.92 kills per game average. What has he meant to your team this year?
PH: He means lot to us. He is an integral part to the team. Shawn is a featured guys with the position he plays. The opposite is there to take a lot of big swings and provide offensive pressure. Shawn is a kid who last year learned to deal with that pressure and carry the offensive burden. He can have good matches and not good matches like at Pepperdine, and after that he came back and did well. For our team to be successful he has got to play well for us. He works hard every day in practice. He is one of the hardest working players on the team.
OTB: Ohio State is playing Ball State (6-4, 1-1 MIVA) on Friday. What are your initial thoughts on the match?
PH: I think it’s always going to be a tough match. For us it’s another match on the road and a team that is saying ‘hey we got to beat the Buckeyes.’ It’s always a rivalry match. Ball State probably circles it on their calender, and I know our guys do to. There is a lot of history behind it. It’s one we don’t take lightly and we want to go and come ready to play. When we are in that arena we need to be mature and be solid in our game and tactics.
OTB: The Buckeyes are on an eight-match winning streak against Cardinals, which is the longest your program’s 50-year history. What is has it been in recent years that has made your team so successful against Ball State?
PH: I’m not sure I can put one figure on it. It kind of depends on the year with your teams and their team. We’ve had matches where we played well and it’s turned out well. We have had some matches we didn’t play well and went five and we were lucky to win. It’s just good fortune and good timing. It’s hard to say it’s one thing. Every time we have a match against Ball State it’s a toss up and either team has to play its best volleyball to win. Having won recently doesn’t mean anything come Friday.