WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Resuming a tradition

New volleyball coach brings Shondell name back to Ball State

Steve Shondell remembers watching his father, Dr. Don Shondell, coach Ball State men's volleyball from the Irving Gym sidelines as a child.

He remembers hanging out with Don's players on road trips, goofing off in the locker room and laughing at jokes as if he were one of the guys.

Although he wanted to coach, Steve said, Ball State's first-year women's volleyball coach never thought he'd continue his father's legacy. Things just worked out that way.

"I always envisioned becoming a coach because my dad was a coach, and I grew up as a coach's son," Steve said. "I just loved coming to Ball State practices when I was little, traveling with the team when they went on the road, being at all the home matches. It was just something I wanted to be."

Steve's father started Ball State's men's volleyball program in 1964. He retired in 1998 with more than 700 wins and 14 Final Four appearances.

Steve, along with his brothers Dave and John, all played for their father.

Now it's Don's turn to watch his son write a new entry in the record books.

"We talked about [the women's job] a long time," Don said. "Steve hated to leave Burris, but he decided he's 56 and only has a certain amount of good coaching years left.

I just explained to him the difficulties of Division I and the necessity to recruit."

Leaving Burris
Steve, one of four first-year coaches at Ball State, said he was disturbed and upset with the recent direction of Ball State's women's volleyball program.

The Cardinals, once a proud program, haven't had a winning season since finishing 2005 with a 21-10 record. The program is 44-80 since and hasn't won more than 15 games in any season.

When former coach Dave Boos fled Ball State to become an assistant coach at Florida, Steve wanted to fix the Cardinals program, and he didn't hesitate to set lofty goals.

"The fact that we've had four losing seasons in a row is unacceptable," Steve said April 14, his first day on the job. "That's why I came back. This junior and senior group will be the group that takes Ball State back to the NCAA Tournament."

Shondell, one of the most successful high school volleyball coaches in America, achieved many things during his 34-year tenure at Burris Laboratory School.

His 1,183-95 record, four national championships and 21 state titles, including 13 straight through 2009, are legendary numbers.

Living up to his father's legacy at Ball State and his own track record at Burris is his next challenge.

"It's a great honor to be coaching at Ball State like my dad," Steve said. "I know my dad had a hall of fame experience while he was here. ... I'll just do the best I can."

Player, teacher, coach
Before Steve was a successful high school coach, he was an athlete.

He was a four year-year letter winner, two-time All-MIVA selection as a setter and co-most valuable player in Ball State's 1977 season. His teams were 88-13-1, including a 21-2 mark in 1976, which is still the program's best season.

"It was always a great honor to have the boys play on the teams that I coached," Don said. "When you have a son on the team, you don't want to put them in the lineup too quick. I didn't want to play favorites or have other people feel I was, so I didn't start any of them until they were obvious starters."

Steve, who covered the women's volleyball team for The Ball State Daily News, didn't have to go into coaching, but he knew that career would make him happiest.

He combined his father's coaching interest with his mother's teaching skills and was hired as an elementary school physical education teacher and volleyball coach at Burris.

Don stressed the importance of being a teacher, not just a coach.

"For 30 years, I think I was able to be the teacher-coach he really dreamed me of being, and that's something I'm really proud of," Steve said. "As an elementary teacher, you touch so many lives. Those kids idolize you and think the world of you, and I have missed that already."

Family rivals
Steve overcame adversity while establishing himself as a top-tier high school coach.

Perhaps most notable was the rivalry with his brother Dave, who built a successful program at Muncie Central before leaving to coach Purdue. Dave's teams sometimes blocked Burris en route to state championships.

"We turned the corner pretty quickly, and things got a little bit personal," Dave said. "Steve is one of the greatest competitors in the game. A lot of people don't realize how competitive he is with how soft spoken he is."

The brothers often ruined successful seasons for the other in the state tournament. But the Shondell rivalry injected pride in Muncie's community and provided student-athletes opportunities to play for major college programs.

"It was good and bad facing off against a top-10 volleyball team," Dave said. "We had to find a way to beat them to have success, which was difficult to do. We used them as a measuring stick rather than a nemesis and mimicked a lot of things they did. A lot of what I've learned was from trying to do what he was doing."

The new challenge
Despite the intense rivalry, Steve continued his mild-mannered and calm attitude inherited from Don. Those traits, along with confidence, passion and poise, are characteristics Steve said he hopes to instill.

"I was able to perform my best when I knew my coaches had confidence in me and believed in me," Steve said. "I love being in a positive environment, and that's how I want to be as a coach. When you play with confidence, you play your best and that's what it's all about."

Steve sent more than 100 players to Division I programs, including Ball State setter and serving specialist Karin Caudill. The senior said she's excited to reuinte with her former coach.

"Everyone wants to play for him because he makes it really fun for everyone," Caudill said. "Steve brings every one's confidence up, and you don't want to let him down because he's such a good coach."

Even with all the championships, wins and coaching awards, Steve's focus is on people.

Steve estimates he's given nicknames to 80 to 90 percent of his players, including Rifleman, Terminator and Bulldog. He said he can remember who was given each one.

"You measure the success of your life by how many people you help and how many lives you touch," Steve said. "I feel like I've been able to touch a lot of lives, hopefully in a positive way."

It's this kind of loyalty that brought Steve back "home" to Ball State and will ultimately keep him in Muncie.

"Muncie has been my home my whole life, and I plan on being here to the very end," he said. "This is where I want to finish my career and end my life, in good old Muncie."


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