WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Ball State's Shondell sets his sights on the NCAA Tournament

Coach hopes to return Cardinals to glory

Steve Shondell has barely had time to sit down to evaluate his team, get to know each player's strengths and weaknesses, address assistant coaching vacancies and speak to recruits. Yet he knows the immediate direction he wants to take the team — the NCAA Tournament.

In order for Shondell and the Ball State University women's volleyball team to do this, much work will have to be done.

"The NCAA Tournament is the goal," Shondell said. "I believe this group can take us back there. There's going to be a lot of work needed to get that done."

The Cardinals will be faced with the chicken or the egg scenario when it comes to their home-court advantage in Worthen Arena. After four straight losing seasons, attendance is down, taking away the advantage that fans can provide a team.

"At times it was almost embarrassing for me to see the lack of attendance and fan support for the team last year," Shondell said. "That's going to change."

The Shondell name is a distinguished one in volleyball as well as East Central Indiana. It was first made famous by Don Shondell, Steve's father, who founded Ball State's men's volleyball program. The legacy continued with Steve and his brothers, Dave and John — the head and assistant coach, respectively, at Purdue University.

This connection is one Ball State and Shondell hope will once again trigger interest in the women's volleyball program.

However, Shondell recognizes his name is not enough.

"I expect the community will come out and support us when we get this turned around and win. Winning always generates interest and support," he said. "You also have to provide entertainment. There can't just be volleyball because that will take you so far."

Some changes Shondell wants to implement as soon as possible is the involvement of a pep band, Charlie Cardinal and the Code Red Dancers.

"My brothers at Purdue have the pep band and dancers. They put on a heck of a show. That helps build the top-notch atmosphere they have there," Shondell said. "I don't think you can just have volleyball anymore, and having these other ways of entertaining the crowd give the fans more for their money."

Another way Shondell hopes to rebuild attendance is to schedule top teams along with regional teams from power conferences.

"To be the best, you have to play the best," Shondell said. "I am friends with a lot of Big Ten coaches and have connections to schools like Kentucky. I'll use that to try and create a balanced schedule that challenges us but also gives us chances to pick up wins."

Shondell said he would not shy away from playing his brothers at Purdue. In fact, he can't wait to renew the inter-family rivalry. If the Boilermakers and Cardinals are unable to meet during the regular season, Shondell was confident they would face off during the spring season.

As the spring season wrapped up last week, Shondell is preparing to apply a faster-paced offense with lower sets and passes than what fans have grown used to the last three seasons.

The defense will also shift to more of a read-based style.

This means everyone on the roster will have to adjust to new responsibilities on the court.

This could also be perfect timing for the Cardinals, however. With just Hannah Sullivan returning at the outside hitter position, a young player will have an opportunity to step in and play right away.

"We're going to have to play someone young on the outside. Hannah is our only returning outside hitter and she's had trouble staying healthy in the past," Shondell said. "This team has had problems with staying healthy, but I'm confident Hannah and everyone will remain healthy this year.

Every active player on the roster is healthy, Shondell said. This is something Ball State did not have going for it last year as most of the team was hampered by some sort of nagging injury or ailment through the 2009 off-season and regular season.

Part of Shondell's strategy in keeping the team healthy is avoiding too grueling of a schedule both in practice and nonconference action.

"We don't want to be in a war night in and night out," he said. "We want to be challenged and in a few wars to get us ready for the Mid-American Conference schedule, but we don't want to be worn out or over-matched."

Despite all the unknowns going into the summer, there is a sense of optimism surrounding the volleyball program.

"It's been a breath of fresh air for us," assistant coach Marci Peniata said. "We're going to be fun to watch next year."

Just as things are getting underway for Shondell, things will have to end for the summer. That doesn't mean he doesn't like what he's seen or hasn't accomplished anything yet in practice.

"This is our year," Shondell said with his trademark, confident smile. "This is the group that turns it around and takes Ball State back to the NCAA Tournament."