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Burning Questions: Rebuilding or fresh start? What’s next for OSU women’s volleyball?

After losing five starters to the transfer portal, how will the Buckeyes bounce back this fall?

Syndication: Austin American-Statesman Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about the most important questions yet unanswered for the season. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Burning Questions” articles here.

The end of last season presented a perfect storm of changes for Ohio State volleyball. The powerhouse team ended the 2022 season with an Elite Eight loss to Texas in the NCAA Tournament, but the more devastating loss was the one they knew would follow — the loss of the majority of their roster.

Due to COVID, the NCAA extended player eligibility for one year, and along with the additional year, teams were allowed to exceed their twelve-scholarship limit. But beginning in 2023, the scholarship limit returns, and with four incoming freshmen on the roster, OSU women’s volleyball coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg knew some roster changes would need to be made.

Oldenburg’s decision was not an easy one — ask the incoming freshmen to walk on without scholarships in order to keep her five seniors for an additional year, or part with beloved players.

Oldenburg chose to play the long game. This meant losing five starters — Gabby Gonzales, Jenaisya Moore, Kylie Murr, Mac Podraza, and Adria Powell — to the transfer portal to find schools where they could use their additional year of eligibility.

Returning players opposite hitter Emily Londot (a second-team All-American), middle blocker Rylee Rader, and defensive specialist Sarah Sue Morbitzer are left to lead the team into the 2023 season.

What remains to be seen is whether they will be leading the team through a rebuilding year or a fresh start. But there is good reason to be hopeful.

The returners seem eager to rise to the challenge, and if anyone can be trusted at the helm of a ship, it’s Oldenburg, with Londot’s leadership on the court a key element to this team as well.

Oldenburg knows how to hit the reset button, a skill that will serve this team well heading into the 2023 season.

In fact, heading into the NCAA Tournament in 2022, the team was on a four-game losing streak. But under Oldenburg’s coaching, the team managed sweeps in the first two rounds before upsetting No. 2-seed Minnesota in the Sweet Sixteen to advance to the Elite Eight (the fourth Elite Eight appearance in program history).

She’ll need to help this team hit reset again heading into the fall. It’s an entirely new group with far less collegiate experience than the 2022 roster.

But with that comes opportunity. There’s an opportunity for progress. There’s an opportunity to establish this team as one to watch. There’s an opportunity for this team to build something new. rather than live in the shadow of the 2022 team.

And with opportunity comes power.

That’s not to say there won’t be growing pains. Already, the team saw some of these play out in spring ball. Two early enrollees — Mia Tuman and Grace Egan — saw firsthand the difference in pace and level of play in collegiate volleyball.

The Big Ten won’t make it easy, either. The conference is one of the most competitive in women’s volleyball, and it will present a unique challenge for young players trying to gain their footing.

But perhaps baptism by fire will speed up the learning. And diving into the intensity early means there’s also more time for the young players to adapt. Their work is cut out for them, but the incoming freshmen seem eager to rise to the challenge.

There’s also an opportunity for some of the younger returners to step up as leaders on the court, and while lack of experience can be detrimental, Oldenburg is framing this as an opportunity, which is the exact outlook a team trying to hit reset needs.

All-in-all, it might be tough for the women’s volleyball team to replicate last season’s magic this year. But it seems likely that even if that’s the case, Oldenburg and her veterans are laying the foundation for this team to excel in seasons to come.

After all, volleyball is played in five sets, and the most successful teams know progress and victory are always about the long game.