Daniel Sipocz

Lauren Schlaker and Claire Farkas didn't necessarily come to Ball State for volleyball. The love for the game they brought to the team has set both up to make a significant impact on the court.

"Both Claire and Lauren have taken their games to a new level," coach Steve Shondell said. "I want players who play for the love of the game and will work their tails off because of that love."

Some coaches like to tell everyone spring volleyball isn't about the wins or losses or that there isn't much a take from the competition. For Shondell and Ball State, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Cardinals have been playing the best competition: NCAA Tournament teams Purdue, Kentucky, Michigan and Butler. Anchoring the team has been Schlaker and Farkas playing in the back row, receiving serves. Farkas has also been in the front row, smashing kills.

"Lauren and Claire both love the game and work very hard, and we've relied on them this spring," Shondell said. "They're playing the best volleyball of their lives and are living up to high expectations when on the floor for us."

Ball State has had success this spring, splitting two sets with Michigan State, losing a heart-breaker to Michigan after having a set point and beating Indiana State.

Farkas, a freshman walk-on, thought her competitive volleyball days were done after graduating high school. An email from former coach Dave Boos inviting her to join the team as a walk-on changed all that.

"Joining the team was a life changing decision," she said. "I missed the sport in general and couldn't pass up the opportunity. Since then I've just stuck with it and it's worked out."

Shondell said things have been better than working out with Farkas and can't imagine what life would be like without her on the roster.

"Claire is an outstanding passer and has all the tools to become a great player for us," he said. "She just needs some more experience and that's something she's getting. She just has to prove she wants the ball in her hands."

With the coaching change last spring, Shondell only had three days to work with the team before the long hiatus until August. This slowed the team's development, but the full spring session has left Shondell raving about his players.

"Lauren has always been a solid defender," Shondell said. "She's been working on her passing, but has become an all-around better player this spring. I've never seen her play as well as she's playing now."

The speed of the college game is faster than it is in high school, so every player goes through an adjustment phase. Schlaker and Farkas both feel they've gotten through that adjustment.

Their significant contributions against top-25 caliber teams in Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue and Kentucky this spring has only reinforced confidence.

"It's been more fun this year with winning, but getting to work through my nerves against that kind of competition has been helpful," Schlaker said. "I'm getting my confidence back and improving a lot."

With confidence up and experience against some of the best teams in the nation, Farkas and Schlaker have raised the bar for their teammates heading into the fall. Expectations were already high, but with high praise about Farkas and Schlaker, the bar may be even higher for Ball State.