Most college freshmen only have to worry about getting to class on time and making a few friends.

For an incoming student-athlete, the jump is more intimidating. 

College players are faster, smarter, more agile and stronger than high school players. There is usually an adjustment period when the player tries to catch up to the faster speed of the game.

It’s a necessary evil that Ball State volleyball coach Steve Shondell has gotten used to. The players are expected to pick up the game at different speeds, with some ready for the season and a few possibly becoming redshirted.

“Practices are more intense, the pace is quicker and mostly, the speed of the game is so much faster,” Shondell said. “[It’s also about] getting comfortable and confident with how hard the ball is hit, really the speed of the game is increased.”

Freshman transfer Mackenzie Kitchel has impressed Shondell in the early season practices. She’s shown improved ball control and quickness when receiving serves, but her offense has made her stand out.

Ball State will need new offensive outputs to be competitive, and Kitchel has shown signs that she could become a key contributor.

“[Kitchel’s] strength will be her offense,” Shondell said. “She’s an excellent attacker, a good blocker and hits a lot of shots. ... She’s improving in all facets of her game right now.”

She is expected to start on the bench and work her way into the game to provide left side offense, relieving Alex Fuelling and Kylee Baker. 

Ball State will play four matches in 24 hours in Iowa, where fresh legs will be crucial in keeping Fuelling and Baker from hitting exhaustion. 

“We’ve got high expectations for Kitchel, she’s a really fine athlete,” Shondell said. “In the one week of practice here, she’s made huge strides.”

Shondell said he has high hopes for freshman Nikki Box, too. A high school All-American, Box will provide relief to Kati Vasalakis and Catie Fredrich as defensive specialist. 

Box has an advantage because she was coached by Shondell when he was still at Burris High School, so she knows his coaching style and the expectations he sets for players.

Previous experience with a coach can help the transition for players because there can be less of a learning curve.

"She’s a really experienced player who led Yorktown to a state championship,” Shondell said. “She’ll bring more depth to the team that we really need.”

Both Box and Kitchel are expected to get playing time throughout the season, but redshirts could be possible for Lauren Gross and Sabrina Mangapora.

Despite the roles Box and Kitchel will play this season, Shondell said he would prefer if they didn’t have any playing time at all.

Coaches often want upperclassmen to carry the load when possible, and allow freshmen to learn through experience on smaller stages before taking on larger roles. 

When injuries impact a team and freshmen are forced to step up, the results can be mixed, as the team can be dominated by more veteran savvy squads.

“I hope they don’t have to make much of an impact; we’ve got 11 players returning,” Shondell said. “If we have to rely too much on them, it means we’ll be in trouble.”