Those familiar with Ball State men’s volleyball know of Ben Chinnici. The Sellersville, Pennsylvania, native burst onto the scene with 16 kills in his first collegiate match, letting the volleyball world know that Ball State landed a big-time freshman.
The 6-foot-4 outside hitter followed up his inaugural performance with a dozen kills in his second match as the team swept its opening weekend behind the play of its newcomer. Chinnici’s performances earned him Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Offensive Player of the Week in his first week as a collegiate player.
For his mother, Robin Chinnici, to see her son’s work translate into that recognition in his first week of college was surreal.
“That whole thing was just unbelievable,” Robin said. “And now that we’ve seen how tough it can be, it was just an awesome start to his career. Everyone at the D-l level are just really good players, so he played really well. He came out swinging and it was crazy to watch him do that well.”
His showings on the court announced the arrival of a potential star, but the freshman had been working toward a moment like that since he was a child, and he had some help along the way.
Ben’s brothers, Cory, 25, and Ryan, 23, got him into volleyball in sixth grade. That’s when he fell in love with the game, and he knows that having that support from his brothers can’t be undervalued.
“My brothers kind of meant everything to my volleyball throughout my whole life,” Ben said. “Just to have them always watching, supporting and playing with me in the summer is just an incredible bonding experience. You just know that your brothers are your best friends and they’re always there to help you on and off the court, so it’s huge for me.”
Watching her children develop an unbreakable bond through the game of volleyball meant the world to Robin.
“Just for them to be good big brothers, it’s really nice,” Robin said. “It’s really important that they’re kind and helpful to one another, and that was a big one. Being able to watch them play doubles and stuff in the summer, there’s nothing like it. ... To see all of your kids on the court at the same time is really cool.”
Ball State head coach Joel Walton saw another side of that story, one that shows dedication to success and a different mindset than most players possess at a young age. Walton said younger kids have to perform at a higher level if they want to be accepted or even allowed to join games with their older brothers. Ben had that mentality at a young age, and it never wavered. Walton said that a mindset like that is rare in young players, and it is one thing that separates Ben from most freshmen he’s been around in his 20 years as Ball State’s head coach.
In regard to family, Ben’s brothers aren’t his only supporting cast.
Both of his parents, Robin and Jamie, try to attend every match their son plays, something that Ben has become greatly appreciative for.
“It’s just incredible to know that your parents are always there for you no matter where you’re playing and they’re going to come out and make that effort to see me play,” Ben said. “Just to have them in the stands while I’m playing, I know it makes a difference just to have them there watching. And just being able to talk to them since I don’t get to see them a lot in college because I live so far away. It’s just an amazing experience.”
Robin and Jamie said they want to travel as much as possible to see their son play the game he loves, knowing college lasts only four years.
Walton’s daughter played six hours away from Muncie in college, so he knows it is challenging for parents to make it to all of their children’s matches. So, he can understand how much it means for the Chinnici parents to see Ben’s dreams come to fruition.
“There are windows of time as you go through life, and right now Ben’s parents are in a window of time where one of their sons is playing collegiate volleyball at a very high level and he’s getting significant playing time,” Walton said. “So they’re doing everything they can to be in that gymnasium and experience that experience with him.
“For a parent, there are very few moments in life as fulfilling as when you see your child achieving anything at a high level … so, I know it has to mean a lot for his parents to be able to share those experiences with Ben, and for sure for Ben, having that kind of support from his family. Those are just really special things that we experience in life.”
Playing with his older brothers at a young age and receiving so much support from his family has helped Ben get ahead of the curve as a freshman, and although his goals as a player are simple, they reflect a winner’s mentality.
“My number one goal is to stay healthy,” Ben said. “I want to be able to continue to play good volleyball, and just continue to see the court and help the team in any way I can, whether it be on or off the court.”
So far, so good.