The Legacy of Ohio State Men’s Volleyball

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Aldis Berzins

Since 1968, the Ohio State men’s volleyball team has been a mainstay in the world of Division I collegiate volleyball and has produced some big names in the sport, along with an abundance of success. How have they done it? Through hard work, remembering who came before them and looking to successfully advance themselves, the sport and the University in every way possible.

Indeed, the motto of the Athletic Department could also be considered both a reflection and a goal: “The People. The Tradition. The Excellence.”

Ohio State became the first non-West Coast team to reach the finals of the NCAA Championships in 1977 and the program has more than 900 wins in its history. A perennial power in the Midwest, the Buckeyes have claimed 21 of the last 42 Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) titles heading into the 2011 season, and have had all but four winning seasons in the history of the program.

One of the biggest names in the volleyball world, Doug Beal, is a Buckeye alumnus. The current CEO of USA Volleyball, Beal was an All-American player for Ohio State and helped lead the 1969 Buckeyes to a 24-0 record and their first MIVA title, and later coached the squad to the MIVA title in 1972. After leaving OSU, he gained recognition as the coach of the 1984 United States Gold Medal Olympic team, which boasted three former Buckeye players in Marc Waldie, Richard Duwelius and Aldis Berzins, who is the father of current Buckeye player Mik Berzins.

Beal gives his insight into the beginnings of the program in the team’s media guide: “I have had a very great privilege to have been associated with The Ohio State University as a student, as a varsity athlete and as a head coach. Ohio State was one of the only universities outside of Southern California to sponsor a varsity men’s program at the time the NCAA began to conduct its national championship in 1970. It was extremely unusual for a major university in the Midwest to support a non-revenue sport like volleyball to the extent that they did, and particularly at such an early stage of the development of the sport in this country.”

The support of the administration is something that current head coach Pete Hanson, in his 27th season with the Buckeyes, continues to credit for the success of his team, this year ranking among the top in the country after defeating such perennial powers as Penn State and UC Irvine and garnering first-place poll votes on several occasions.

“Prior to me getting here, there was a lot of success on the court and that was due to good coaches and good players, maybe because there were fewer options for men’s volleyball around the country,” Hanson said. “But as the sport began to grow, Ohio State was not keeping up with the Joneses from an administrative support standpoint with the number of scholarships and resources.”

Hanson credited OSU Athletic Directors Andy Geiger and Gene Smith for making a conscious effort to increase the funding for many of the Olympic sports to raise the bar across the spectrum.

“Administratively, we hear a lot about how our men’s volleyball team is every bit as important as our football team for the overall health of the program,” Hanson said. “We’re seeing the fruits of those labors with how we’ve been able to put successful teams on the court.”

In these economic times, it is certainly admirable for a school such as Ohio State to fully support 36 teams – one of the largest athletic departments in the country. It’s an effort that has fostered a fiercely loyal and proud base of past and present student-athletes.

Former All-American Pieter Olree, a member of Ohio State’s 2000 squad that advanced to the NCAA title match, reflected on the culture of the Buckeye program.

“Ohio State is successful because of the tradition and honor,” said Olree, who currently plays professionally in the Middle East. “I’ve played for a lot of teams over the years but there are only two jerseys I loved putting on and one of them was Ohio State. You play for the people before you and the ones to come. There are pictures of former players in the locker room and the standard they have set. It reminds you of what you need to do each and every day.”

The success of this legacy is evident by looking at the 2011 Ohio State squad, which boasts five fifth-year seniors. They all had limited roles early on in their careers, but learned lessons both on and off the court from the experienced core of older players who started the current streak of NCAA Championship competition (2008, 2009, 2010).

Setter Steven Kehoe is one of those fifth-year seniors. He spent the early part of his career with the squad behind All-American Daniel Mathews but now ranks among the leaders in the country in assists per game as the Buckeyes sit among the top teams in hitting percentage. Kehoe recognizes the importance of the Ohio State tradition and realizes his role in its perpetuation.

“When [the core of fifth-year seniors] came in, there was already a solid group of upperclassmen, so we were really able to follow their lead and learn from them. But in the same sense, we were able to establish our own way of leading because we had a really strong class. With each year, as we’ve progressed, we’ve taken on more leadership and responsibility. It was great to see all of the players from all of the decades [at the team’s alumni event at the beginning of March], and that’s certainly something we’re proud of, but along those lines, we want to leave something behind.”

A great perspective on the program comes not from a Buckeye, but a Nittany Lion. Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik considers Hanson one of his good friends and has a healthy respect for the program they play several times a year.

“Ohio State is a major institution that has the resources to do the things that are necessary for success, and they come from a culture of winning,” Pavlik said. “Over the years they have gotten some great players who have worked hard, but there’s a certain pride when you’re a Buckeye, an importance. They sit in class with other student-athletes who have won conference and national titles, and it’s a self-sustaining cycle of success.”

As the players, the game and the times change, one only needs to look at the current Ohio State squad to see that the culture and atmosphere of success instilled so long ago remains the same and will continue into the future.

Did you know? Ohio State Volleyball...

1. Was represented on the 1984 Gold Medal United States Olympic Team by former Ohio State player and coach Doug Beal (head coach) and former Ohio State players Aldis Berzins, Marc Waldie and Rich Duwelius.

2. Was the first non-West Coast team to reach the finals of the NCAA Championships (in 1977).

3. Has won or tied for the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Championship in 21 of the last 42 seasons heading into 2011.

4. Has a .830 winning percentage at home (424-90) coming into 2011.

5. In the 43-year history of the program, OSU has had 39 winning seasons, including 2011.

6. Is the only MIVA team to reach the NCAA National Championship Match twice, in 1977 and 2000.

7. Started in 1968 with a 17-6 record.

8.Current head coach Pete Hanson is in his 27th season and has 13 MIVA titles heading into the 2011 season.

Originally published in June 2011

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