Observing a timeout at a Ball State Women’s Volleyball match closely resembles “Swan Lake” — three clipboard holders all moving in unspoken unison whilst performing a well-choreographed dance of player guidance — coaching, teaching, supporting and providing insight for their players.
Head coach Kelli Miller Phillips grabs the attention of the group and emphasizes the game plan while assistant coaches Brad Kline, Tiffany Koors and Fritz Rosenberg tend to specific points of the court with players individually. Working quickly within their allotted time, the group performs almost telepathically together.
The Cardinals’ coaching staff is in season six of this show, and with every passing day, their rhythm only grows.
In 2007, Tiffany Koors began her collegiate volleyball career at Purdue University when she met then-senior Kelli Miller Phillips. Now, 14 years later, the pair has reunited at a new school and in new positions. Koors and Phillips swapped middle blocker and libero positions for assistant coach and head coach, respectively, now donning the red, black and white of the Ball State Cardinals.
Rosenberg, 2008 Ball State alumnus, captained the men’s club volleyball team as a student and coached the women’s and men’s club teams after graduation.
His first collegiate coaching position was at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana. From there, he coached at the University of Kentucky and Missouri State University. Rosenberg also coached at Muncie Central High School and for Munciana Volleyball Club in Yorktown, Indiana.
Rosenberg said he oversees many of the logistical aspects the Cardinals deal with away from the game, such as travel, food, statistics, film and hotels. During gameplay and in practices, he said he prioritizes defense.
“In game, in training, it's primarily the defensive side — so, in a sense, defensive coordinator if you wanted to compare it to football,” Rosenberg said “But, we oversee different areas, so it's constantly changing, even mid-season.”
When Rosenberg returned to Ball State in 2014, he was given the chance to coach with someone who has been a staple of volleyball in Muncie, Indiana.
“[I had] the opportunity to come back [to Ball State] when Steve Shondell was the head coach,” Rosenberg said. “It was something I was interested in mostly due to the history of volleyball in this area — I think [it] is extremely unique.”
Miller Phillips spent time with Rosenberg and Kline as an assistant coach under former head coach Steve Shondell before she was promoted to head coach in 2016 after Shondell’s retirement. Koors was brought in after Miller Phillips accepted the position.
Koors said she focuses on the Cardinals’ offense and player recruitment. Behind her desk sits a whiteboard with a large player recruitment puzzle — current and potential player names and graduation dates fill the board, outlining Ball State’s plan for the future.
“On the weekends, in our offseason, we're out recruiting at tournaments,” Koors said. “I'm the one that's making all those initial contacts and getting kids to campus. From a game perspective, I am a heavy part of the offensive side of things. Then, I work more specifically with our middles, and then, I work with Fritz with blocking as well.”
Kline said he is the ‘Jack of All Trades’ of the team, doing whatever is asked of him whenever it is asked. He played tennis while attending the University of Indianapolis but also played club volleyball at Purdue University and went on to coach high school volleyball while completing his degree at Purdue Fort Wayne, where he graduated in 2013. Kline took his current position under Shondell and never looked back.
“I told everybody I'll give it a year and see if I like it, see if they even want me back next year” Kline said. “I was kind of approaching it as a one-year contract every year, and here we are 10 years later — still doing it, still loving it.”
Kline holds the only unpaid position on the staff as a volunteer assistant coach and works with the Cardinals when he can find time. He spends his time outside of coaching working as a patrol officer for the Noblesville Police Department and is a member of the department’s SWAT team, but he said the connections he has made with the Cardinals is worth his time.
“Putting in the amount of time that I do wouldn't be worth it if we didn't have these types of relationships with each other — that’s a huge part of having a successful program,” Kline said.
Rosenberg and Koors share an office where the dividing door is always ajar with commentary flowing back and forth, creating a light-hearted and positive atmosphere..
For Miller Phillips, she said the more time you spend together with people and truly get to know and care about them outside the office, the more chemistry and connection is built.
“All of us genuinely care about each other … that just translates over into the volleyball side of things and winning games,” Phillips said. “So much of a coaching staff’s success is trusting one another in that chemistry. I think because we truly care about each other, it's really easy to just carry on that trust in the office — that’s been a huge piece of what we've done.”
Phillips said the group has a collective vision of how they want to grow and build the program and the assistant coaches do so much for her and the team.
“I think we all have our own thing,” Rosenberg said. “We all have our own strengths [and] weaknesses, and it's kind of like a Venn diagram, a little bit. We overlap in areas, but we each [have] our own niche that we're pretty good at. We don't tend to step on toes, but I think we're very much all trying to achieve the same goal, which makes it pretty easy.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff faced adversity with contact tracing and attempting to hold recruiting interviews via Zoom. Phillips and Koors both missed time due to maternity leave, which they said also made communication tougher.
However, any challenge the staff faced was quickly followed by a positive, as the trio said they always recognized the rewarding part of Ball State’s program — developing relationships with players and helping them succeed after college.
Kline, who spends most, if not all, of his vacation days in and around the volleyball court, said along with the relationships he has made, coaching creates the perfect balance away from his day job.
“I have kind of a unique perspective where my real job is in law enforcement,” Kline said. “I deal a lot with the bad part of society, so it's a nice balance for me to be able to come up here and spend some time with these guys, and they kind of keep me balanced out that way — they're a great group.”
Phillips said she will continue praising the strengths of her staff and how they have brought so much to the program.
“Fritz [is] a mastermind from a scouting standpoint, training and just getting ideas at a higher level of what it's going to take to reach where we’re going to go,” Phillips said. “Tiffany connects so well with the girls and does an unbelievable job with recruiting, training and running our offense. Brad has been this linchpin — I mean, this guy's doing it all from a voluntary standpoint and just is a support system … I just couldn't have asked for three better people to be doing this with.”