Daniel Sipocz

When Steve Shondell was announced as the new women's volleyball coach a year ago, Ball State returned to its roots.

It hired a Ball State guy who bled cardinal and white. Shondell's hiring was also unexpected.

"Everyone was a little surprised that Steve left [Muncie] Burris," former Kentucky assistant coach and Ball State alumnus Chris Beerman said. "You know it had to be hard for him to leave Burris. He had it made there.

"He was the obvious hire, a perfect fit."

The coach will celebrate his one-year anniversary at the helm of Ball State on Wednesday. And it was a successful first year.

Shondell was taking over a team that finished below .500 for the fourth straight season. Injuries hampered the Cardinals and led to inconsistent play. No one really knew what to expect.

The first day on the job, Shondell sat in his office admitting he was behind the eight ball with only three days of spring practice for him to work with the team.

He didn't look like a rookie coach. He also didn't sound like one, but on the collegiate level Shondell was.

The plan seemed simple. Ball State would turn to fundamentals to win. The Cardinals would play solid defense, pass well and put the ball in the hands of the playmakers at the net. It worked at Burris and it was going to work at Ball State.

Shondell was one of the most successful high school volleyball coaches in the country. His credentials spoke for themselves: a 94 percent win rate, more than 1,000 wins, 21 state championships and four national championships.

"Steve will be the one," Southern California coach and Ball State alumnus Mick Haley said. "No one will work harder than Steve. He made coaching history coaching the younger kids."

The unparalleled amount of success put pressure on Shondell. Even as he talked of a quick Ball State turnaround, Shondell wanted to keep expectations reasonable.

Other coaches in the volleyball community didn't.

Four-time defending national championship coach Russ Rose of Penn State and North Carolina coach Joe Sagula spoke highly of Shondell last summer, even before he had coached his first match. Both said they expected big things from Ball State and Shondell.

"Steve is going to do a terrific job," Rose said. "He's a terrific coach and he gets kids to play hard. I also know how Muncie embraces volleyball and Steve has been a big part of successful volleyball in that area."

The high expectations of success were met. Shondell coached Ball State to its first winning season in five years. The Cardinals won 24 games and a regular season Mid-American Conference championship.

The conference championship was the first for Ball State since 2002. Shondell was named the MAC Coach of the Year.

"People seem to be surprised of his success," Haley said. "When people win over and over, they will win on every level. The second year may be harder than the first. He's on everyone's radar now."

The storybook first season for Shondell didn't have the happy ending, however. Top seeded Ball State was upset by MAC Tournament host Toledo. The loss ruined any hopes of a NCAA Tournament appearance but served notice that Ball State volleyball was on the rise.

"The MAC may be worried about Ball State now that Steve is there," Haley said. "Once he gets everything organized, he's going to build a juggernaut. Ball State is going to be a whale of a program."

Both Haley and Beerman felt Shondell could take Ball State into the top 25. They also were glad that Shondell is now running the program they love.

"Ball State has a large fraternity of coaches," Beerman said. "It's more fun to support the program as an alum when there's a Ball State guy running it, because they understand what it means. Ball State is a special place for volleyball."

As for Haley and USC, a matchup isn't in the works, but Haley would love to square off against Shondell in the future.

"We'd love to be invited back to Muncie like we were in 2003," he said. "That was a great tournament with Nebraska and Louisville. It'd be great to have a tournament like that again."