When asked about the key to his team’s current 16-3 record and recent success, Cleveland State volleyball head coach Chuck Voss didn’t pause.
“For my first 10-11 years we were unable to get the quality Cleveland-area players, just because they didn’t want to come to Cleveland State. It took a lot of winning before we changed that,” he said.
The winning to which he alludes began early in his tenure and halted a nearly two-decade long stretch of losing seasons for the Vikings.
Voss arrived at CSU in 2000 after getting his head coaching start at NAIA’s Mount Mercy College in 1995-1996. From there he sharpened his coaching skills further with a three-year stint as an assistant with Missouri before arriving in Cleveland.
The Vikings are 5-0 in the Horizon League heading into Friday’s match against Valparaiso. Outside the conference they have inflicted losses on Indiana, Notre Dame and Baylor.
Redshirt senior Dayna Roberts is a great example of the area talent driving success at CSU. Roberts hails from Olmsted Falls, a suburb some twenty miles to the southwest of Cleveland. Last year, the 5-7 Roberts had 459 assists, good for 10th best in the conference with an average of 4.78 assists per game. As a redshirt freshman in 2012 she was named to the Horizon League All-Newcomer team.
She took her lessons well from a Vikings’ squad that qualified for the NCAA tournament that year. The Vikings fell in the tourney to No.20 Kansas to end their season, but amassed a 23-7 overall record and grabbed the first set win in Vikings’ NCAA postseason history before it was over.
“I think we have a lot of strong leadership from my class and the classes under me, which makes for a good team. Especially during the offseason; a lot of the girls were up here in the summer working out, which helps,” said Roberts. “That leadership was a main part of the 2012 season. I think it’s going to be a main part of this season, too.”
Roberts’ comments underscore the importance of getting talent close to Cleveland for the Vikings. The ability for players to work out during the summer on campus is a key factor when the season arrives so quickly in the fall. Unlike their spring sport counterparts, volleyball has relatively little time on campus before starting play. In turn, poor summer workout habits have little time to be overcome before the season is underway.
“We only have about two weeks of practice before we tee it up and play in the fall,” said Voss.
Vikings players will try to participate in two or three beach tournaments together in the summer as well, and proximity to one another makes it that much easier logistically.
“Players are mostly from the Cleveland area, and if people aren’t they stay up here in the summer and take classes and work out,” said Roberts.
The time spent together during the summer speeds up the development of CSU teams into a cohesive unit each fall. Even prior to arriving on campus, area talent has a benefit for the Vikings. “Many of the players already knew each other from prior volleyball competitions, so that helps to speed the transition,” said Voss.
Horizon League volleyball is marked by its up-tempo style of play, one that pressures defenses to keep pace or lose the point. The Vikings’ second-teamers ability to push the pace in practice is critical in getting its starters game-ready. The close knit nature of CSU teams allows for intense practices.
“Our second string has done a fantastic job this year just pushing our starters. They know they’re one play away from playing. If they practice well and push the starters, then if they get the opportunity, they’re ready to go,” added Voss.
Thanks to the bond between players, the friction that may develop from second-teamers actively gunning for a starter’s role is minimized at CSU. As a result, the Vikings head into their Horizon League matches well-prepared for its tempo.
“I don’t think we would be where we are today without the second string pushing us. I think each and every day they do a good job of seeing what’s open on the court and seeing what we’re struggling with,” said Voss. “They always seem to find a way to push us in those areas.”
The direction from the former Buckeyes’ captain has taken root among his players. The Vikings’ are in the heart of a Horizon League schedule that will determine their NCAA tournament prospects for the season. Voss credits Roberts with opening the door to a succession of talented Cleveland-area players. That talent, under senior leaders like Roberts has made the Vikings perhaps the league’s most cohesive unit.
“We trust each other on the court,” said Roberts. “I think that has a lot to do with our success.”
Horizon League opponents would agree.
Above: Keeping local talent like Dayna Roberts in the Cleveland area at Cleveland State has helped the Vikings rise in the Horizon League. (Courtesy CSU Athletics)