Vinnie Lopes

Ball State University men's volleyball starter Billy Ebel watched as the Southwood High School girl's volleyball team scored to tie Burris Laboratory School in a state championship match Saturday. 

With the score at 12 in the third set, Ebel got up quickly from his seat among the Burris assistant coaches and walked quickly to the sidelines to yell defensive instructions to the girls, who risked blowing their two-game lead in their biggest match of the season.

For the high school girls, it was a chance to hear from the Cardinals' all-conference libero. For Ebel, one of seven assistant coaches for Burris, it was a chance to learn from Hall of Fame coach Steve Shondell, who stood nearby on the sidelines calmly watching his undefeated Owls go for their 13th straight state title.

"When it gets to a close match like that they need to hear that feedback, and they need to understand what we are looking for and what they need to do to change their game," Ebel said.

Ebel was one of three Ball State players serving as volunteer assistant coaches who helped their teams win a high school state championship during the weekend at Worthen Arena.

Along with Ebel, middle attacker Andy Nelson coached Burris — which swept Southwood to win the Class 2A championship. In addition, setter Ethan Pheister helped coach Muncie Central High School to a sweep against Elkhart Memorial High School in the Class 4A championship match.

"This is fun," Nelson said. "I never got this far in any of the high school sports I played."

Ebel and Nelson spent the entire season working with the varsity team. In their positions, the two coaches would attend two to four practices per week and tape film of the upcoming opponents with the other coaches.

Prior to the start of the high school season, Ebel said Shondell recruited him to be an assistant coach because of his defensive experience.

Ebel, in first season as a full-time Ball State starter last season, led the conference in digs and was named to the conference all-tournament team. As a coach, the senior helped instruct Burris' liberos and defensive specialists.

Throughout the Owls' practices, Ebel said he would often serve as a practice player — hitting balls to players and blocking attack attempts.

Despite the less-than-glamorous role with the Owls, Ebel said the experience of working with Shondell has been one of the most beneficial experiences in his volleyball career.

"Steve has brought me to a new aura of coaching," Ebel said. "He's taught me things. I've not only learned how to play volleyball better, but I've learned to coach better."

In addition to Ebel, Nelson spent this high school season working with the Owls' middle attackers.

Nelson started for Ball State last season after transferring from the University of Minnesota. In his first season of Division I men's volleyball, he finished in the conference's top 10 for blocks and blocks per game average.

Along with playing for the Cardinals, Nelson was a student manager for the Gophers when Ball State women's volleyball coach Dave Boos was an assistant coach at Minnesota in 2006.

Nelson said he was able use that experience and his time at Ball State to help coach Burris.

"Steve really gave me a lot of free reign," Nelson said. "He really let me use what I've learned from playing and from Boos and bring that to the team."

At Muncie Central, Pheister spent a majority of the season working with the Bearcats freshman girls' volleyball team. Following the end of the freshman team's season, the setter moved up to be one of three assistant coaches with the varsity team during its postseason run.

Muncie Central coach Wes Lyon said Pheister — a second-team all-conference player for the last two seasons — was able to bring a knowledge to the game that gained him respect from the players.

Coming into practice and traveling to as many matches as possible, Pheister said he tried to contribute as much as possible and gain knowledge from Lyon.

"Obviously I'm not the biggest part of the puzzle," Pheister said. "But I like to think I made a little bit of a difference."

With Ebel, Nelson and Pheister wanting to start coaching after their college career, all three players said they were fortunate to have the opportunity work with a local high school team.

Having also played for the Cardinals in the 1970s, both Lyon and Shondell said they always like to give current players interested in coaching a chance to help out with their teams. The two coaches also said they can see the three players being great high school or college coaches in the future.

Along with the coaching opportunity, all three players said the experience they gained as an assistant will help them in the Cardinals' upcoming season.

"Being on the sidelines on game and then going out on the court as player and coach, you get every aspect of the game," Ebel said. "You get to feel what the coach is saying and then bring that on the court when you are playing."

In the middle of its preseason training, Nelson also said the experiences he gained as a coach at Burris have helped him at Ball State's practices.

"I'll be in practice now and I'll do something and I'll remember telling a Burris player the night before not to do the exact same thing," he said.

Ball State enters this season after finishing 2009 ranked No. 13 in the coaches poll and losing to Ohio State University in the conference tournament championship match.

This was the second consecutive season the Buckeyes have swept the Cardinals in the finals. Ball State has not won a conference title since 2002 — its longest championship drought in program history.

"Unfortunately for Ball State we've never been in a situation where we have won a championship but seeing this team and seeing the team come through like this really just gives me a lot of drive and desire to do well this season," Pheister said.

Pheister also said the mental toughness his Muncie Central team showed throughout its postseason run to a title is something he wants take with him into this upcoming season.
The Bearcats ended this postseason after losing against Burris in its final regular season match and has not won a state championship in five years. In the postseason though, Muncie Central did not lose set, including two victories against teams in the top-10 state poll.

"It's just the way the team refused to lose," Pheister said. "They came out every match expecting to and came out to every match wanting to win, and that's something I can take our game this coming spring is expecting to win every match and coming to win every time."