Steve Shondell takes a lap through the stands of Worthen Arena, walking up into the higher rows of seats and stretching while admiring the court below.
After a few minutes, he makes the journey back down to press row where he mingles with players, coaches and fans before studying the opposing team’s roster.
He doesn’t need to study Ball State Men’s Volleyball’s roster. He knows it by heart.
He wears his apparel from his days coaching Ball State Women’s Volleyball to every match.
His love for the university runs deep and is always on his sleeve.
During the match, he is the voice of reason between plays. His glasses tip just toward the end of his nose as he looks down for a player’s name and stat line.
He calls out scores and sequences while echoing the Cardinals’ nicknames around the arena.
“You’ve made it on the big stage when Steve has a name for you,” graduate student setter Quinn “The Q-tip,” Isaacson said.
This has been Steve Shondell’s process for more than 15 years as Ball State Men’s Volleyball’s public address announcer.
The son of former Ball State Men’s Volleyball head coach, Don Shondell, Steve won four national titles and 21 state titles in his tenure as head coach of Burris Laboratory School Women’s Volleyball from 1976 to 2009. He also served as Ball State Women’s Volleyball’s head coach from 2010-16 and guided the Cardinals to a 2010 Mid-American Conference regular season title, Ball State’s first since 2002.
“I’ve grown up with Ball State Men’s Volleyball,” Steve said. “I became very fascinated with the program.”
Today, Steve draws fandom for the energy he brings to Ball State’s home court and the variety in nicknames he gives the players.
“That’s the reason some people come,” Isaacson said. “I got to work with Steve at Burris [Laboratory School], so I have a great relationship with him. He enjoys doing it, and I know the fans do, too. We like it as players — it helps motivate us and gets us excited.”
Steve analyzes Ball State’s previous matches for takeaways and follows every second of the Cardinals when they’re away from home.
Through announcing, he tries to give the match as many different perspectives as possible. He said wants to make the game less stressful for the players while giving the fans a new side of student-athletes.
“It’s very unique,” Steve said. “I don’t know too many other programs that call their players each by nickname. I think the fans like it, [and] it gives a little extra spice to the match.”
The process of formulating a nickname is usually quick for Steve. It will strike him, pop into his head and be cemented for the player.
“Some of the nicknames come from the nicknames that they currently have, that they had when they came to Ball State or one the players here gave them,” Steve said. “If they don’t have a nickname that I know of, I usually create one for them to the best of my ability.”
Steve gave senior outside hitter Kaleb Jenness his nickname, “The Beach,” based on his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. Jenness said the moniker is used off the court as well.
“There's a beach like 15 minutes from my house,” Jenness said. “I play a lot of beach volleyball, so I think he got it from there … I actually got a shirt for Christmas, my cousin made it, it says ‘The Beach’ on the back of it.”
Of all the nicknames he has announced, “The Q-tip” ranks at the top for Steve, but he was not the originator of the label.
“It’s one of my all-time favorites, but I didn’t come up with that one — that was one that the players had given him,” Steve said.
Isaacson said he’s unsure when it was given to him but said it was a hit with the players and Steve, so he decided to “roll with it.”
Steve said his father instilled his love of volleyball in him, in which he has made a lifetime out of coaching and playing. He played under his father from 1974-77 at Ball State and served as an assistant in Don’s final seven years of coaching from 1992-98. As an announcer, Steve said he feels like a caretaker for the family’s legacy in Muncie.
“I’ll be following the men’s team as long as I live,” Steve said. “I’m just trying to carry on the Shondell tradition … I know this program meant the world to him, and it does to me, too, so this is one way I can give back to the program.”
Aside from the mic and headset, Steve is seen as a Ball State coaching legend, being inducted into the Indiana Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1996, the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005 and the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007. More importantly, though, Jenness said he is someone players can bond with.
“Just having someone that comes to talk to you after games [and] between sets, he’s a really great resource and a great person,” Jenness said.
Ball State head coach Donan Cruz has not received a Shondell nickname but said his presence makes the home atmosphere that much better.
“We cannot say enough about how much of a staple he is to men's volleyball here at Ball State,” Cruz said. “I like to see how good of a relationship he has with the guys, and then he gets the fans going. We appreciate him so much.”
When Isaacson stepped back to serve match point against then-No. 1 ranked Hawai'i Jan. 29, Steve was there to call for “The Q-tip.”
Hawai'i was the defending national champion.
He wouldn’t have missed a match of its magnitude for the world.
It was one of his favorite moments to call.
Contact Daniel Kehn with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @daniel_kehn.