WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Players reflect on team's direction
Ball State weighs differences between this season and previous years
The Ball State women's volleyball team was facing a future without Brittany McGinnis running the offense in 2010.
Instead of an experienced leader who averaged more than 1,000 assists in her first two seasons and ranking fifth all time with 3,130 assists leading the Cardinals offense, freshman Jacqui Seidel would have been asked to step into the massive void left by one of the best setters in Ball State history.
It almost happened.
"I had committed to another school at the time and everything was set," McGinnis said. "I had my jersey. I had my classes and plan to follow to graduate all figured out. They were expecting me."
McGinnis was days away from not being a Cardinal. She had left the team after a challenging 15-16 season in 2009. Assistant coach Hugh Hernesman, who helped manage the player and coach dynamics, had left. McGinnis wasn't sure Ball State was the right place for her.
McGinnis wasn't alone. Backup setter Andrea Felton and defensive specialist Christie Waters left the program at the same time. Felton was a walk-on and Waters was facing a stacked defensive backcourt as well as the loss of scholarship funding.
Others considered leaving as well. Three years under former coach Dave Boos proved to be challenging and unsuccessful. Boos compiled a 32-62 record at Ball State, including a program-worst 5-25 record in 2007.
"We were playing a different kind of volleyball while Dave was here," senior defensive specialist Hannah Sullivan said. "It wasn't as much fun for us. It wasn't all that bad for me, but it had more of an effect on others and threw them off.
"Sometimes it was what he said or how he said it. Other times, it was just his demeanor or presence."
Many players had already come and left under Boos. Nine players left the program in Boos' first two years for a variety of reasons — typical when a coaching change is made. One, Alexis Shonkwiler, returned in 2010.
Shonkwiler left the volleyball program after her freshman season in 2007, a year where she started 26 of 29 matches and recorded 93 kills.
"No one was really having any fun, even though we were playing hard and for each other," she said of her freshman season. "We were trying to have fun."
McGinnis said everyone on the roster had to re-evaluate the situation after the 2009 season.
"It was a difficult semester for all of us," she said. "Everyone had a similar story in having to decide to stay or leave. I came here because of the great vision Dave, Hugh and Marci had for Ball State.
"A lot of the success we had this year has to do with Dave. We have to give him credit, along with Hugh and Marci. They're the ones that built the roster. All we went through – especially the bad — made us tough."
Before anyone was forced into having to make a decision, Boos resigned in March to take an assistant coaching position at Florida. At the time athletic director Tom Collins said he was caught off guard by Boos' decision to leave.
The resignation left Ball State in the hands of the only coach left on the staff, Marci Peniata, a young assistant coach a few years out of college. Peniata held the team together while Collins searched for a new head coach.
"I would be lying if I said the thought of leaving the team didn't cross my mind before Dave left," Sullivan said. "I wasn't really thinking about it during the coaching search though. At that point it was like, ‘What's one more year?'"
Sullivan and other players stayed. A last minute change of heart brought McGinnis back to Ball State. McGinnis said Boos' resignation had little to do with her decision to return.
"When Dave quit, I was still on the fence," McGinnis said. "It triggered me to decide again. Wherever I was going to go I still might have wanted to come back. I really had to think about it."
Even though Collins hadn't lured Steve Shondell away from Burris Laboratory School to coach Ball State yet, McGinnis reversed course after two weeks of soul searching.
"It was a really hard decision to make and even harder to tell Madonna University that I wasn't coming," McGinnis said. "They were like family. My sister played for them and I was good friends with them.
"It ultimately came down to my love of Ball State, having all my friends here, and having my teammates for support."
Shondell became coach in April and immediately re-secured the recruiting class who had been given the opportunity to be released from their commitments. He also rallied the team and, by chance, encounter with Shonkwiler in a weight room, convincing her to come back to the team.
Staying the course was the right decision for McGinnis and her teammates. The Cardinals won 24 matches and a regular-season Mid-American Conference championship. They also got long anticipated wins over Ohio and Western Michigan.
"Our goal is to keep this a positive experience for everyone," Shondell said. "My first season here was magical. It couldn't have gone any better. All the credit goes to the girls for bringing the team together."