Daniel Sipocz

Despite junior middle blocker Kelsey Brandl's best efforts, the 2010 women's volleyball team struggled to consistently out block opponents this season. Coach Steve Shondell recognized the weakness and addressed it in his first recruiting class.

Two outside hitters and a middle blocker have signed national letters of intent to play for Ball State in the fall. All three add size and physicality to the Cardinals.

"This class is going to bring a lot of size to the floor for us," Shondell said. "We have a nice nucleus coming back next year so we won't have to rush them onto the floor which will help us develop them throughout the season and add depth to our front row."

Haley Benson, a 6-foot-3-inch middle blocker from Hilliard, Ohio, was a four-year letter winner for Hilliard High School. She also earned honorable mention All-Ohio accolades as a senior. Benson chose Ball State over Pacific and multiple other Mid-American Conference teams.

Shondell was excited about what Benson will bring to the table, citing difficulties in finding middle blockers of Benson's size in the Midwest. Shondell acknowledged that he had little to do with her recruitment, however. Former assistant coach Marci Peniata recruited Benson and managed to secure the commitment before she left the program last summer.

"Haley will play in the front row for us and will be our stopper," Shondell said. "We have to get better at blocking and that's the strength of her game."

Kelly Hopkins, a 6-foot-3-inch outside hitter from Kokomo, Ind., will bolster depth in the middle and right side. Hopkins was the Most Valuable Player for Kokomo her senior season while earning First Team All-North Central Conference accolades.

Hopkins was also a two-sport athlete and chose to play volleyball at Ball State over playing basketball for Indiana University. She's already been given the nickname "Big Red" for her height and her red hair.

"Even though Kelly hasn't played as much club volleyball as other players, she has a huge upside," Shondell said. "She hits the ball hard and blocks very well. She could be an impact player early on next season on either the outside or middle."

Marquita Marshall, a 5-foot-11-inch outside hitter from Muncie, is the final player to sign with Ball State. Marshall played for Muncie Central High School, earning a 138-17 overall record, including the 2009 IHSAA Class 4A State Championship and state runner-up finishes in 2008 and 2010 as well as multiple individual accolades.

Marshall also won a Junior Olympics National Championship and an AAU National Runner-Up finish.

"Marquita first played for me on my 12 and under Pepper Team about eight years ago," Shondell said. "She has outstanding athleticism, and can play any position we would ask of her. She's a great slide hitter and will score a lot of points for us on the slide."

Shondell said he was pleased with the amount of depth the front row will have next season with the additions. He feels the 2011 recruiting class will take pressure off current front-line players Whitney Heeres, Kylee Baker, Brandl, Mindy Marx and Jennifer Boyd.