MEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Senior quartet heads into final chapter of BSU careers

Four players all left marks on CardinalsGÇÖ program

2010 MIVA Tourney Quarterfinals

Ball State vs. IPFW
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Worthen Arena
Cost: $3 for students; $5 general admission

For seniors Billy Ebel, Ethan Pheister, Eric Schulte and Matt Sprague, the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association tournament could be their last stand.

No. 13 Ball State University opens MIVA Tournament play Saturday night in Worthen Arena against IPFW, and the seniors don't want it to be their last match in a Ball State uniform. The Cardinals are now in a one-and-done situation from here on out.

"I think that you would hope that your seniors, because of their experience and understanding the significance of those matches, will play great volleyball," coach Joel Walton said. "I would love Billy Ebel, Eric Schulte, Ethan Pheister, Matt Sprague to play well beginning this weekend and continuing the next week and a half."

The journey the seniors took was not an easy one, yet all four are amongst the best in the MIVA at their respective positions.

Sprague, an outside hitter, was second in kills for Ball State his junior year but was limited this season due to injury.

Schulte, also an outside hitter, didn't become a full-time starter until his senior season but is making the most of his playing time. He has led the Cardinals in kills the past two games.

Pheister, a setter, has seen extensive playing time all four years and recording his 100th career service ace this season.

And last, but certainly not least, Ebel, a libero, has won six MIVA Defensive Player of the Week awards this season alone and has racked up 659 career digs.

"We always tell recruits that our team is closer and we are more of a family," Ebel said. "We are hanging out all the time, there is always something to do with us. Coming into Ball State, that was what I was looking forward to."

The four seniors have been hanging out together so much that they have many off-court experiences. However, most of the seniors were keeping a tight lip on some team pranks.

"Favorite off the court memory..." Sprague said, "None that could be shared."

Schulte was in the same category with Sprague.

"There's a lot of off the court memories that shouldn't be said," Schulte said. "A lot of it is making fun of Sprague. He and I go back and forth since freshmen year."
Ebel also entered the banter between teammates.

"Living with Eric Schulte my senior year, every day was a funny moment for us," he said. "I almost felt like I was dead just taking care of him and trying to get on the same page. I always cleaned a lot. It's one of those things I can't erase from my memory. Eric Schulte was probably the best roommate I ever had."

Pheister can relate to many freshmen as he felt like a stranger on campus when he first arrived as Schulte, his high school teammate, was the only person he knew. His former teammate Matt McCarthy helped Pheister fit in.

"That first night I came to Ball State, I was so nervous," Pheister said. "I didn't know anybody. I didn't know what to expect. Just going to McCarthy's house and meeting everybody for the first time and hanging out with them, I knew it was the right place to be and it was going to be a great four years."

Four years later, and these four seniors are embarking on the final chapter of their final season.

Billy Ebel
Position: Libero
Hometown: Lenexa, Kan.
Nickname given by announcer Steve Shondell: "Ring the bell for Billy Ebel"
Why he chose Ball State: "I chose Ball State first of all the coaches. Joel [Walton] and Furn [Kevin Furnish] have been really great to me. Also the team. We tell recruits that our team is closer and we are more of a family."
Favorite volleyball memory: Coming back from two games down to beat Lewis University in the MIVA Semifinals in 2009. "It was just awesome for us to do that," Ebel said.
Plans after college: "I'm planning [on] coaching at the University of Nebraska," Ebel said. "I got the graduate assistant position for the women's team there. I would only come back to Ball State in three to four years if Steve Shondell is still here and he offers me a job. Getting the opportunity to work with him again is something that I would want to do."
Walton on Ebel: "Billy is a very gifted forearm passer. Extremely good digger. Right now I believe he's second in our conference in digs. Billy's done a great job with the number of conference defensive player of the weeks that he's been able to garner this season. I just want him to finish strong."

Ethan Pheister
Postion: Setter
Hometown: Shorewood, Wis.
Nickname given by announcer Steve Shondell: "Phe Phi Pheister"
Why he chose Ball State: "I never heard of Ball State when I was in high school, so Joel had some selling to do, but he did a really good job selling the program."
Favorite volleyball memory: "I hope we have a championship in us this year, but up to this point, definitely beating UCLA twice. That's something I'll remember for the rest of my life for sure."
Plans after college: "I'm hoping to coach club volleyball; coach boys' club that is. I'm going to keep volleyball a part of my life."
Walton on Pheister: "Ethan is probably one of the best blocking setters we've ever had. Certainly one of the best serving setters we've ever had. His setting abilities have gotten better and better. He's a good all around player."

Matt Sprague
Position: Outside attacker
Hometown: Ballwin, Mo.
Nickname given by announcer Steve Shondell: "The Chiseler"
Why he chose Ball State: "I love the campus and when I came to visit, I hung out with the team and they were a good group of guys. I love the atmosphere and it was something I wanted to be a part of."
Favorite volleyball memory: Beating No. 3 Cal State Northridge in 2010 and UCLA in 2008. "Playing well against the California teams that came in here. I also enjoyed the trips to Hawaii and California."
Plans after volleyball: "Go home, try to find a job, earn a paycheck, hopefully coach volleyball with my former club team."
Walton on Sprague: "Sprague is a guy that I have a lot of respect for because I feel his game is similar to mine. Matt's probably a better blocker than I was. He sees where hitters like to go. He's a smart attacker. He doesn't over power the block, he hits smart shots around through and off the block. If there's some kind of seam or some kind of a line shot that they leave, then the nickname ‘Chiseler' is appropriate because he's going to chisel that ball through."

Eric Schulte
Position: Outside attacker
Hometown: Shorewood, Wis.
Nickname given by announcer Steve Shondell: "The Sergeant"
Why he chose Ball State: "For me, it was the difference between going to a Division I or Division II school for volleyball. Joel actually took the liberty of not really talking to me my junior year of high school, Kind of leading me on a little bit, and then finally senior year, he was like ‘Yeah we would like to have you on our team.'"
Favorite volleyball memory: Beating No. 3 Cal State Northridge this year. "That's the highest team I've ever beaten while attending Ball State."
Plans after College: "Maybe coach [a] club team or a high school team when I have more time-management. Volleyball will still be a big part of my life for a while."
Walton on Schulte: "I think we are starting to see Eric's potential late in his senior year. Eric is a guy with a great arm. He plays very good back row defense. He's starting to play more consistent for our team. I really enjoyed coaching Eric, he listens, he works hard; he's had a great career for our program."