Story Courtesy of BSU Media Relations
When the Ball State women's volleyball team takes the court Aug. 27 versus The Citadel, a new era will begin for one of the most storied programs in the Mid-American Conference.
Led by first-year head coach Steve Shondell, the Cardinals will look to remove themselves from four consecutive losing seasons and recapture the glory of the 1990's and early 2000's when the program advanced to the NCAA Tournament seven times and earned seven league championship titles.
"When I look at our roster, I see a team with the potential to step up and be a contender in the Mid-American Conference," said Shondell. "We have the players and talent to be in the thick of the championship hunt, we just need to believe in ourselves and our ability to play at a championship level. Our non-conference schedule is going to be key in helping us build confidence in our play and develop a winning mentality."
Shondell has a vast knowledge about what it takes to develop a winning program, coming from Burris Laboratory School in Muncie, Ind., where he built a volleyball dynasty. In 34 seasons as the head coach of the Owls, Shondell's teams were a combined 1,183-95 (.926), winning 21 state championship titles and four high school national championships.
"Winning starts by having a positive attitude on the court," said Shondell, a 2007 American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee. "No matter if we are conditioning, practicing or playing a match, having a positive attitude and enjoying what we are doing leads to success. As long as we are having fun on the court, the wins will come."
Looking to help the Cardinals develop a positive on-court attitude will be a core group of returning players who all have multiple years of playing experience. Leading the charge is junior middle blocker Kelsey Brandl, who became the latest Ball State player to earn First Team All-MAC accolades last season. She is joined by junior setter Brittany McGinnis who has started the past two seasons for the Cardinals and junior middle blocker Jennifer Boyd who was a 2008 Second Team All-MAC honoree.
The Cardinals four-member senior class boasts the team's main libero for the past three seasons in Alyssa Rio, as well as Charde' Phillips, who when healthy, has been a dominant force in the middle for Cardinals. Outside attacker Hannah Sullivan has also turned in some strong performances, while defensive specialist Karin Caudill helps solidify the backcourt and can be a threat from the service line.
Rounding out the Cardinals returners are defensive specialists junior Kaylee Schembra and sophomore Lauren Schlaker. Schembra has been a strong defensive presence for BSU the past two years, also turning in some time as the team's libero.
"We have a lot of talent and experience returning this season," said Shondell. "I am going to rely heavily on our upperclassmen's experience especially in conference play, as it will be my first time seeing a majority of our opponents and going through the rigors of MAC play. Their leadership on and off the court will help us tremendously as we look to bring the program back to championship form."
Also returning to the Ball State roster is redshirt junior Alexis Shonkwiler, who played for the Cardinals in 2007 before leaving the team for the past two seasons. New to the roster are freshmen Kylee Baker, Claire Farkas, Catie Fredrich, Whitney Heeres, Mindy Marx and Jacqui Seidel.
"It's nice to have Alexis back on the team as she is a gritty competitor who gives us a lot of depth in the middle," said Shondell. "Kylee, Whitney and Claire provide us with immediate help on the outside, while Mindy will add more depth to the middle. Jacqui has been pushing Brittany every day in practice at the setter position, while Catie is one of the best pure passers I have seen come to Ball State as a freshman."
With a limited amount of time to learn about his program, having only three days of practice with the team in the spring and three weeks of preseason practices, Shondell has spent a lot of his focus on helping develop positive energy on the court and going back to the fundamentals of the sport.
"We have focused on our fundamentals for a majority of the preseason," said Shondell. "We spent a lot of time working on our ball control and defensive play, as those areas will be crucial in helping us develop our offensive strategy. We have also focused on putting the fun back in volleyball for our players. We want them to enjoy being on the court, as that will help us develop a positive, winning attitude."
When the new era of Ball State women's volleyball begins on Aug. 27, the Cardinals will rely on their newly developed positive, winning attitude to help restore the glory to one of the most storied programs in MAC history.