On Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, the Ohio State women’s basketball team defeated the Michigan State Spartans 61-55 after a fourth quarter battle in East Lansing, Michigan. The victory put the Buckeyes in a position to win the Big Ten regular season title, but they still needed help. Ohio State needed their heated rivals, the Michigan Wolverines, to lose their game against the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Scarlet & Gray to win a piece of the prize.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they took flight as Iowa and Michigan were still on the court. As the plane reached altitude, and out of reach of any phone signal to keep watching the game, Ohio State laid in waiting until they descended from the clouds. As the plane came back down to the Earth, the Buckeyes went back up into the clouds figuratively when a flight attendant came on the intercom and congratulated the 2021-22 Big Ten champions.
“I’m literally getting chills about it right now,” said Ohio State junior Jacqueline Roberts recounting the moment she found out her and everyone else on that plane secured the Buckeyes’ 14th conference regular season title.
A quick search of the Scarlet & Gray’s roster won’t include the name “Jacqueline Roberts”, but her and a group of dedicated students are there for every moment: Winning championships, the tough defeats and in the empty underbelly of the Schottenstein Center after late night returns from road trips.
She's a member of the Ohio State women’s basketball managers.
If you’ve come to the Schottenstein Center for a basketball game, you’ve seen the managers work.
During the game, they’re sitting on near or around the bench. When a timeout gets called, they rush out to set up chairs and give towels and water to players. When a player slips, they’re on the court in a flash to remove any sweat from the floor.
That’s only during the game. Before any introductions or jump ball, as players are warming up, the managers are in the thick of it — rebounding.
As every rostered and healthy Buckeye is shooting at the basket, up to 14 players earlier this season but consistently around 12, a small group of managers are standing under and around the basket. The end goal is to keep basketballs from going everywhere, and keep the drills going, but it isn’t easy.
“You’ll get a jammed finger every now and again,” said CJ Williams, a sophomore in his first year as a manager. “Sometimes you’ll get a ball to the face while you’re not looking. It’s inevitable. A ball is going to hit you.”
Those are the exact reasons why anyone who’s been on a court to play or shoot around with their friends has the natural reaction of ducking, covering their head or turning the other way and running when they know a basketball is in the air, near the basket.
For the managers, there are tactics and ways to avoid these moments, even if it’s impossible to avoid them completely. Like a tactical play during the game, there are triangle and diamond formations, and ways of switching the perspective. Even so, the natural human reaction is still there.
“The feeling of ‘oh shit’ goes away, which Allie (Hiegel) doesn’t believe but it I promise that it does,” said senior manager Joe Gryboski, trying to assure a fellow manager in her first season with the Buckeyes.
The managers work goes far beyond game time.
A Full Time Job
Being a team manager isn’t a secret way to get into basketball games for free and get a great seat. Outside of game responsibilities, managers can spend upwards of three to seven hours a day fulfilling responsibilities of the role, game day or not. That’s on top of classes, homework and studying for said classes and any sort of a social life.
On road trips, they’re loading bags into buses, making sure everything arrives and unpacking back at the Schottenstein Center, sometimes after spending hours traveling back from games Ohio State plays across the country.
At practice, they’re the first people to show up and not in the old cliche sports idea of “being the first to the practice facility and last to leave” kind of way. Instead, they arrive 30 minutes early to make sure the Buckeyes’ players don’t have anything getting in the way of them, practicing and preparing for the next challenge.
That means doing anything from setting up chairs for watching game film, filling up waters and helping players, coaches and staff with whatever they need.
All of that work is done behind the scenes. It’s what the fans don’t see, until last season. That’s when the managers made their way to Instagram.
While it might not make the Ohio State women’s basketball media guide, Nov. 17, 2021 was an important day in the history of the program. It was the date of the first post from the Ohio State managers on Instagram.
Christie Longo, graduate senior at Ohio State and most tenured manager of the group started the account two years ago to air a managers’ basketball game live that never came to fruition. Instead of completely ditching it, Longo and the managers went a different direction.
“At first, we started out ‘it’s just our team following us or maybe like their friends and parents or whatever,” said Longo. “All of our photoshop stuff was ‘this is something they would find funny.’
It began with gameday graphics, editing over the program’s graphic with their own twist. For instance, the Buckeyes’ trip to Syracuse in Dec. 2021.
In the year that’s followed, it went from expert photoshop work to videos, photos and anything at all from behind the scenes of the team.
On one day, its a Tik-Tok dance to celebrate not having to move chairs back after the team’s film session. On another it’s sharing a private conversation between the managers and LeBron James. Then forward Cotie McMahon is used like Drake from his “Views” album cover, placed on top of the Schottenstein Center, hanging out with Spongebob and more.
While most of the posts are designed with the intent of sharing jokes within the program, its still content that garners a laugh from folks outside of the program.
“It’s great that we have more followers but there are random people that I’ve never heard of,” said Longo, who runs the account. “Some of the reels we post will have good views”
The content has shifted slightly as their presence has grown to outside of Ohio State, with posts focusing on getting people out to games or a coach marching alongside the Ohio State Marching Band as they practice in the women’s basketball gym.
Overall though, it’s still a place for the managers, players and staff. It’s become a content curating site where anyone’s funny photos or moments can be amplified. Through it all, there’s a specific reel that’s a favorite of many. It stars Longo herself.
“We were laughing about that for probably hours,” said Williams. “Even during the process of editing it, just dying of laughter and every player, coach loved it. Even if some people might not understand it, to us it was absolutely hilarious.”
Speaking of coaches, it also often features a pretty popular name in the program: head coach Kevin McGuff.
This is another example of curating a photo and turning it into something more. Using a photo from an away trip, the managers turned it into doing their part to help secure a sell out for the Buckeyes’ game against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Jan. 23, 2023. While McGuff isn’t in on the joke personally, it’s continued as the season’s progressed to include more of the 10-year Ohio State head coach.
“I’ve never personally asked him what his thoughts are,” said Longo. “He follows us, which I think is a pretty big win.”
Understand the jokes or not, the laughs elicited from the managers’ work in the program has an impact. After all, the managers, players and team staff sometimes spend more waking hours together than apart. That means people bond, sometimes get on each other’s nerves and go through difficult moments.
In those less fun times, making light of it through an Instagram post turns frustration into a lighthearted moment. There’s something therapeutic in being able to laugh in tough times, and its something the managers do well.
“There’s times where it will just help lighten the situation up, lighten the mood up after a loss or even after a win,” said Gryboski. “The next day before practice we’ll get our heads back in the game but we can laugh off a more serious thing and make it more lighthearted and just remind us that life’s short, be funny with it.”
Stepping onto a campus of tens of thousands of people is intimidating to say the least. Managers aren’t recruited like their basketball player counterparts in the program. Roles are filled by word of mouth or by former high school managers reaching out to the team staff, followed up by an interview and tour of the facilities.
While acclimating to the team is different for everyone, being part of the group makes the transition to college one less hurdle to jump over in the college experience.
“I remember for me, the first couple game days we had, we would sometimes, just us managers, hang out in the locker room,” said Allie Hiegel, current Ohio State freshman. “I remember Christie and Joe hitting each other with some of our basketball pads we use for rebounding. They’re all funny people. So it’s honestly just fun to sit around and listen to them talk.”
Online are only the jokes that make it public. The group keeps up a sort of “life is short, be funny with it” mantra that makes the program a more welcoming environment. Hiegel was also invited by senior members of the group to see a former player in Dayton and go out to dinner that wasn’t part of any organized team event.
Even if the comment section of their social media is filled with players throwing jokes back at the managers’ expense, there’s a true connection between managers and players too.
Earlier this season, forward Rebeka Mikulášiková’s parents came to Ohio to watch their daughter play — all the way from Slovakia. In preparation for their visit, Mikulášiková taught the managers phrases in Slovakian they could share with her parents. It’s not only for special occasions either.
“Sometimes during the week, players will ask us to rebound for them, just one on one and that time to me is special because I actually get to talk to them versus when its practice and everyone is ‘go go go,’” said first-year manager and Ohio State junior Danielle Mathews. “Just bonding with them over that time is really special.”
A prime example of that special relationship is guard Taylor Mikesell. The Buckeyes’ graduate senior is known for her efficient three-point shooting over her two seasons with Ohio State, and she works on it consistently in practice. Mikesell arrives 30 minutes before practice and shoots. Before games, she’s also one of the first Buckeyes out to do the same on the court. Senior manager Joe Gryboski is there to help.
“Every time I’m at a game, pregame, I go out and rebound with T.Mike,” said Gryboski. “Its just the two of us for a little bit and it’s such a special moment where you just rebound and you get into the zone for the game, it’s really cool for me.”
It’s also a special moment for Mikesell beyond the time to talk and bond. Mikesell spent her first two seasons with the Maryland Terrapins. before transferring to the Pacific Northwest. During the 20-21 season with the Oregon Ducks, Mikesell was part of a program that left her with a bad experience. That’s when she returned to her home state to play with the Buckeyes.
“Joe’s been one of the first people I really talked to when I got here,” said Mikesell. “He wants to do so well at what he does and I obviously want to do the same. I think that’s more a work ethic respecting work ethic and I think that’s how we built our relationship. I’m so happy to be part of his four years and I was able to experience two of them and I know I have a friend for life.”
That friendship doesn’t stay on the practice or game courts at the Schott. Mikesell and Gryboski have built their own arsenal of inside jokes and make sure they always get dessert on away trips together.
Retiring from Managing
Like the players in the program, the managers time with the team is fleeting. On Friday, before Mikesell’s senior day celebration at half court, Gryboski and fellow manager Gaby Schorling each received their own honors after committing years to the Ohio State women’s basketball team with each moving on to the working world.
Putting the managers first in the senior day order is a fitting honor for a group who’s purpose it is to make things easier for their teammates, and set them up for success in competition.
Although Longo wasn’t honored in that group, they honor managers in their fourth years regardless if they return, it’s also her final season as a team manager. It’s her fifth year, one shy a record six years held by two managers who came before her.
Longo’s career that started with a nervous walk through the practice gym, where she only knew one person, the person who told her to meet there. Then, creating a lot of confused looks, and likely garnering immediate credibility, Ohio State star guard, and current WNBA star, Kelsey Mitchell yelled “hey, Christie!” because Mitchell had a class with Longo’s older brother three years earlier.
Now, five years later, after committing thousands of hours to the program she started following as a fan, not to mention the immeasurable amount of basketballs she’s rebounded, her time as an active member of the managers comes to an end.
While the celebrations in the locker room following wins, breaking ankles on social media or cheering in a charter plane are all great experiences she’s had, it’s not an arena rattling moment that she’ll remember the most.
“I really just enjoy, like, the grind. That sounds so cliché but I like being at the Schott all the time,” said Longo. “I’ll remember most sitting in the locker room and making jokes or sitting with Jacqueline and editing these little videos, they’re like 20 seconds, and so funny. Getting back super late from trips. I don’t think I’d ever want less time with people, so that’s been really special.”