Nathan Matthews took over as head coach of the Wittenberg men’s volleyball program on the heels of a 2-15 season. When Matthews got the job in the summer of 2021, there were seven players on the roster.
“Basically when I got here, we were not in a great spot,” Matthews said. “From that point, we started talking about our goal of trying to win our conference and recruited guys pitching that vision even though we were really far off from it.”
Wittenberg improved to 11-17 and 4-4 in the conference in 2022, Matthews’ first season, and then took an even bigger step this spring, finishing 19-10 and 7-1 in the Midwest Collegiate Volleyball League. The nine-team conference includes one other North Coast Athletic Conference school, Wabash, and two other Ohio schools, Baldwin Wallace and Mount Union.
Wittenberg, Baldwin Wallace and Mount Union tied for first in the regular season. Wittenberg qualified for the MCVL tournament for the first time and lost to Baldwin Wallace in the first round on April 14.
Matthews was named the league’s coach of the year. Freshman outsider hitter Eli Halverson, a Hamilton Badin High School graduate, was named the MCVL Rookie of the Year and made the all-league first team along with senior outside hitter Tom Supan.
Matthews also credited two seniors who experienced lean years before finding success this season: middle blocker Dominic Melchiorre; and outside hitter Chris Goertz.
“Honestly, if they hadn’t stuck it out, I don’t even know if we’d have a program,” Matthews said.
Matthews rebuilt the program by convincing the recruits of what the program could be with the facilities Wittenberg has. With so few players on the roster when he started, he also sold recruits on the ability to play right away.
“I think those two guys just kind of bought into that vision of what they thought the program could be,” Matthews said, “and then obviously helped us take a big step towards getting us here this season.”
Matthews, who’s from Gahanna Lincoln High School, is a 2019 Wittenberg graduate. He was a member of Wittenberg’s first men’s volleyball team in 2016.
“Back then there were even way less volleyball programs than there are now,” he said. “I was actually going to go to a school in New Jersey, and Wittenberg started the program late in my senior year. To have the opportunity to stay in Ohio and get to play with other guys from Ohio and kind of prove that Ohio men’s volleyball can hang with anybody, that’s what we aspire to do.”
Evan Amstutz coached the program the first season and led it to a 14-11 record. The team finished 14-18 in 2017 when Amstutz left during the season and was replaced by the Wittenberg women’s coach, Paco Labrador, who served as interim coach. Amstutz is now an associate head coach for the women’s volleyball team at Stephen F. Austin.
Ryan Thompson, who’s now an assistant coach for the women’s team at Missouri S&T, coached the team the next four seasons. When Matthews was a senior in 2019, the Tigers were 21-11.
“We ended up having a pretty good year our senior year, but there were a lot of unrealized goals,” Matthews said. “I learned a lot from the failures and what we didn’t accomplish when I was here, and it’s something that’s allowed us to talk our guys through so they don’t nmake some of the same mistakes and avoid some of those pitfalls.”
Matthews got his starting in coaching while at Wittenberg. He coached the Tecumseh High School girls team from 2016-18 and had a record of 42-28. He was named Clark County Coach of the Year in his final season.
Matthews stayed on the women’s side as a graduate assistant at Kentucky, which won its first national championship in the 2020 season, which concluded in April 2021 because of the pandemic.
“That was a really a lot of good timing to be perfectly honest,” Matthews said, “I tried to be as much of a sponge as possible while I was down there, and I that that has absolutely had a huge impact on our program, just getting to learn from some of the best volleyball coaches in the world and taking as much as I could from what they were doing and trying to implement it here.”
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