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Feb. 25, 2016

(Photo/Teijo Pirttimaki – Urheilukuva 2015)

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – OhioStateBuckeyes.com recently caught up with Buckeye alum and current professional volleyball player, Steven Kehoe, to find out the latest. Kehoe played for Ohio State from 2007-11, winning the NCAA national championship as a redshirt senior.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, where did you start playing volleyball and how has it progressed into playing professionally.
“I started playing volleyball as early as I can remember. Both my parents played collegiately (my dad at Ball State and my mom at Western Michigan) and they also coached. When they’d go to coach, I would go with them and play around with the ball. I never expected to have the opportunity to play in college, but it was certainly a goal of mine. I excelled at the high school level, and was fortunate enough to catch the eye of Pete Hanson and Tim Embaugh, which led me to come play at The Ohio State University. I couldn’t have asked for a more fulfilling experience in my five-year career at Ohio State. The fact that I got to play with people who are currently my best friends, and also finish my career with the program’s first NCAA National Championship made it all a remarkable experience. I honestly never had the goal of playing professionally, but after graduating and realizing that it was a possibility, I seized the chance to do something different. I started my career in Finland, played a half season in Belgium, and I am currently in my fifth season abroad. My current team is Kokkola Tiikerit in Finland.”

How difficult was the transition from collegiate volleyball to professional volleyball?
“The transition from collegiate to professional didn’t take too long. I think the hardest part is getting through the fact that everything is a new situation. On the court, volleyball is volleyball. It sounds simple, but only some small things are different about the style of play. The one thing that helped me most, and the advice I would give to anybody, is to come in with an open mindset. Be ready to learn and to work hard.

I immediately realized when I came to play overseas that Ohio State provides an incredible amount of organizational support for its athletes. Although the playing level is professional overseas, Ohio State is unmatched in the resources that it provides to student athletes.”

How did playing for The Ohio State University help prepare you for playing at the professional level?
“Ohio State provided me with a foundation of discipline and work ethic when it comes to volleyball. Along with that, I learned how to communicate effectively and be a leader. I am always trying to get the best out of my teammates, and I worked hard to develop that skill at Ohio State.

Ohio State taught me plenty on the court, but I developed as a person off the court as well. I grew up a lot in my five years at Ohio State, and I thank the team, coaches and community for shaping who I am today. I am extremely grateful for how much time and effort all my coaches poured into me. I know it is something rare and not to be taken for granted. Having said all of that, I feel that I was well prepared for life and playing overseas.”

What is it like living in another country for seven-plus months without being able to come home?
“It is difficult to be away from people you love for so long. It never gets easy to leave home. I would not have even survived a single season if I weren’t so focused on getting better at volleyball and enjoying the experience of something new. If I’m being completely honest, there is a time each season that I get really homesick and question whether or not this is the right career choice. In my first season I got pretty lonely, but I figured out that it was a choice and that I can be proactive in being social in a place where the culture is different and I don’t know many people. Other parts of my career that have helped me enjoy life are: seeing my family every Christmas, and making great friends in whatever city I live in. It is a blast to make friends with people from such different cultural backgrounds, and I have learned an incredible amount from them. One thing to keep in mind after graduating, no matter what you end up doing … you always keep learning. Being a good learner will prepare you for almost anything.”

How is the team chemistry when you are playing on a team as a foreigner and not many people speak your language?
“I’ve played on a team as the only foreigner, and also on a team with five foreigners. The team chemistry is always dictated by the coach and leaders on the team. I’m happy to say that in my past three seasons I’ve had an incredible coach whose example is easy to follow. I have also been able to impact the culture as a leader within the team. One essential component to my team’s success has been the ability to communicate. Everybody I’ve played with speaks English, and it has made my life easy on the court.”

What are some challenges that you have to overcome on a daily basis?
“On a daily basis, the biggest challenge is to get myself physically ready to play. A lot of years practicing and jumping have done some damage to my body. Recovery is SO IMPORTANT, and so I’ve learned how to take care of my body better. I know exactly what I need in order to prepare myself to be my best in training and matches. I always feel mentally prepared and will give all I have, and so the challenge is just to know myself well enough and to do what it takes at all times so that I’ll be ready at the next practice or match.

Contrary to what you may think, I don’t have any daily challenges that involve language. My interactions with teammates, team staff, fans, and friends are all effortless.

The only other daily challenge is the time difference between Finland and the US when I want to call home!”

What are some of the best things about being a professional athlete?
“The best things about being a professional athlete – getting to play a game you love for a career. I know that is the obvious one, but it is very true. The experience of living overseas has helped shape me into a more understanding person, and it is something that can only be gained through living in a foreign country. I also have the pleasure of being a role model to younger athletes and kids that are just fans of ours. It brings me a lot of joy to see smiling faces and sign some autographs after matches.

Thanks to Pete Hanson, Tim Embaugh, Sean Byron, and Kevin Burch for teaching me so much about the game and life, and also to my teammates and Ohio State for providing me with the most incredible college career I could’ve imagined.”