Women’s Volleyball: Hannah Gruensfelder talks legacy on a tight-knit program

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Ohio State senior defensive specialist Hannah Gruensfelder (7) prepares to pass the ball during a game. Credit: Kirk Irwin via Ohio State Dept. of Athletics

Hannah Gruensfelder chose to play an extra year for the Ohio State women’s volleyball team after the program’s new coaching staff helped unite the team and elevate their level of play.

Gruensfelder, a defensive specialist, is the lone super-senior on the roster. Gruensfelder’s mom, Cindy Gruensfelder, said the decision to stay an extra season was all her own.

“With COVID, all of our lives have been changed dramatically and her wanting to rethink a fifth year in order to play again, I thought, was wise,” Cindy Gruensfelder said. “She stepped back and considered all of the options and chose to play again. We are completely supportive.”

“Super-senior” may be a term sports fans hear a lot in the next couple of years as all NCAA athletes were granted an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic’s disruption of athletic seasons in 2020.

Hannah Greunsfelder was one of two seniors who were granted an extra year of eligibility from the 2020 women’s volleyball team; the other, Lauren Witte, chose to pursue her career path instead.

Both Hannah Gruensfelder and Witte helped the Ohio State women’s volleyball team have an unexpected breakout season in 2020-21. The program saw its best finish in the Big Ten Conference since 2012, finishing 15-3.

“We went through a couple years of just going through the grind and not really enjoying ourselves and just kind of getting through it,” Hannah Gruensfelder said. “Last year, we really enjoyed playing and being with the girls and becoming friends with the coaching staff.”

The Ohio State program also saw its first NCAA Tournament appearance in five years. The team made it to the Sweet 16 before falling to Florida.

“It was everything I had worked for for four years, and I was just like, ‘I can’t give this up,’” Hannah Gruensfelder said. “I need to do this again and stay with this group.”

Hannah Gruensfelder credited head coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg and her coaching staff for turning the culture of the program around.

Pointing to the culture shift in the program, Hannah Gruensfelder said the new staff also created a new buzz around the team and relit their competitive fire.

“The coaching staff has been a really big inspiration to me,” Hannah Gruensfelder said. “They were able to take a bunch of girls that were pretty down about the past couple of years, you know, thinking we were not a top program in the Big Ten, and completely changed our minds. Now we are considered a top program in the Big Ten. There are girls texting us and asking for our pictures again.”

The Ohio State women’s volleyball program gained an entire new coaching staff at the start of 2020 with Oldenburg as the head coach.

Oldenburg was a former member of the Ohio State women’s volleyball team herself — suiting up for the Buckeyes from 1996-99 — before pursuing a career in coaching.

“I want them to love it. I don’t want anyone to hate the game,” Oldenburg said. “I think that says a lot about how we treat each other and how we play the game. Winning certainly helps, but I think it’s also the respect we have for each other.”

Hannah Gruensfelder’s revitalized love for the game has been noticed by her teammates, who voted her team captain for the second year in a row.

Oldenburg echoed the sentiment shared by Hannah Gruensfelder’s teammates, pointing to her leadership and drive to become better.

“I feel like Hannah has such a great demeanor and presence and has such a good work ethic,” Oldenburg said “She’s one of those players that you just love having in the gym. She has reasonable expectations but also makes big-time plays and is a great leader. She’s everything you could ask for in a student-athlete.”

The women’s volleyball team is already picking up where they left off with an early upset over then-ranked No. 4 Washington Aug. 28. The Buckeyes have won eight-straight matches to open the season and are yet to play in a fifth set.

“We have more experience under our belt now and we don’t have as many of those nerves, and I think that’s something that is going to really help us this year,” Hannah Gruensfelder said. “We want to do well in the Big Ten against so many top teams, and I think we want to take that into the NCAA tournament and go even further.”

Hannah Gruensfelder said her team is putting in the work to leave their mark on the Ohio State women’s volleyball program.

“Hannah’s talked about leaving a legacy and I think after the spring season she has certainly left her mark,” Oldenburg said. “If she wanted to leave after the spring, we would have shook hands and let her go, but the fact she wanted to come back and do more, I think, speaks volumes for what she wants to do and leave behind for this program.”

With the fall season already taking off, Hannah Gruensfelder said she is taking in every moment of her last season playing volleyball for Ohio State.

“I know it sounds cheesy, but I try to enjoy my time in the gym, enjoy my time with the girls, and just appreciate all the travel and late nights,” Hannah Gruensfelder said. “I know this is something I’m going to miss when it’s over.”

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