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Nov. 18, 2006

By Scott Dodge

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Sometimes in sports, it seems events happen for a reason. Things that might seem bad at the time they might actually turn out to be beneficial. When a loss is seen only as a defeat and not as a learning experience, an opportunity to grow has been misspent.

Take for example Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The Bulls lost to the Detroit Pistons two consecutive years in the late 1980s before finally winning the NBA title. Jordan used those losses as motivation. He learned from what he had done wrong and used those experiences to become a better player.

There is no doubt that when a team has home court advantage in post-season competition, they have a much better opportunity for success. This May, the NCAA Men’s Volleyball Final Four will be held on the campus of The Ohio State University for the fourth time. The other years were 1978, 1983 and 1997. Members of the 2006 Ohio State men’s volleyball team believe this is the year they have been waiting for. Composed of a few seasoned veterans blended with promising young players, the Buckeyes are ready to take full advantage of this rare opportunity.

Ohio State last reached the NCAA Final Four in 2005, when they fell to Pepperdine, the eventual National Champion. That was the first time Ohio State had been to the Final Four since 2001. They have participated in the national semi-finals a total of 14 times. Ohio State has made the national title game twice, first in 1977 and then again in 2000, but has fallen short each time. “Having people on our team that played in the Final Four a few years ago is really going to be beneficial for us,” John Albertson, the 2006 Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Freshman of the Year said. “I also think not making the Final Four last year helps, too, because we all knew we could have been there. We actually beat both teams that were in the national championship match. As a team, we know we can perform at that level.”

That experience will be infinitely beneficial as the Buckeyes attempt to mount a serious title challenge.

“There is no way to play in the Final Four and then still experience any kind of shell shock in any other match you will ever play in,” Dan Mathews, a 2006 MIVA All-Conference selection said. Mathews was a freshman on the 2005 team that advanced to the Final Four. Also that season, Mathews was a MIVA second-team all-conference selection, the MIVA Freshman of the Year and was named the 2005 MIVA Tournament Most Valuable Player.

“Whether we are playing at home, or away in front of a hostile crowd, playing there in front of that sort of crowd definitely galvanized the competitive spirit in everyone who participated in it,” Mathews said.

Senior Dan Meske has had one eye on this season’s Final Four for some time.

“For me personally it has been something that has been in the back of my head since my freshman year,” Meske said. “You know where the Final Four is a couple years in advance. All the seniors on the team want to end our careers playing in front of our fans in the national championship game.”

To reach the Final Four, a team must win its conference tournament. The team with the best conference record during the regular season plays host to the conference tournament. The Buckeyes will do all they can to make sure they do not let a golden opportunity like this slip away.

Robbie Klein, a sophomore outside hitter, believes his team must play up to their potential.

“I think what we need to do to get there is play with a chip on shoulder all year,” Klein said. “We need to play like we have something to prove, because I think we do. We didn’t make it to the Final Four last year and everybody here kind of expected to.”

Klein added he thought some events from last season will help the Buckeyes this year.

We had some things happen last year that were out of our control,” Klein said. “We had some injuries to some key guys so that was kind of disappointing. I don’t think I would have played much last year if Mark Greaves (a senior outside hitter) wouldn’t have been hurt. It was good for me personally to get all that playing time last year because now I can come back and take my experiences from last year and become a better player.”

Playing in front of a capacity home crowd with a national championship on the line is something that motivates these Buckeyes.

“I can’t even describe what it would be like to play in front of the home fans in the Final Four,” Klein said. “The most fans I ever played in front of at home was maybe five or six hundred at the Scarlet and Gray Game last year. It was one of the coolest feelings I’ve ever had. We played at Hawai’i last year in front of about 2,000 people, but they weren’t necessarily rooting for us.”

Mathews shares the same sentiments as Klein.

“Playing in front of the home crowd would definitely give us an enormous advantage,” Mathews said. “I think it is an honor to be able to host the tournament. I think it speaks volumes of the quality of our program and of our facilities here at Ohio State.”

Mathews said how he thinks hosting the Final Four would be a good chance to showcase quality volleyball to the Columbus and Ohio State communities.

“My favorite part about being able to host the Final Four is we can show the community and the school that volleyball at the top level involves the same amount of athleticism, strength and agility as any other sport,” Mathews said. “And also that volleyball as a sport contains all those elements that make every other sport as exciting as they are.”

Meske believes that with volleyball becoming ever more popular in the state of Ohio, the Final Four could not come at a better time.

“The fact that Ohio volleyball is growing at such a fast rate shows what perfect timing our hosting the event is,” Meske said. “We will be spreading the popularity of the sport not only in Ohio, but in the Midwest as well.”

With the 2006 Buckeyes oozing potential, and the possibility of playing in front of their home fans in the national championship game, this season should prove to be one to remember for the Buckeyes.