When covering Ball State athletic events – or any event for that matter – I try to spend one or two minutes throughout the event to pause and take in the environment around me.
Not writing, not tweeting, not taking pictures – just taking in the scene for a few breaths.
It’s important to the storytelling process to experience as much as you can to better tell the story. Coupled with the fact that sports journalism grants the ability to cover truly amazing moments in amazing places, sometimes you just have to take it all in for a moment.
There have been a sizable amount of pinch me moments in my young career in sports journalism, but very few, if any, have come close to what I have felt while covering volleyball.
My sister played high school volleyball and currently plays at Calvin University, so I knew about the sport, just not too much. I have poorly photographed a match or two along the way and knowing what a kill was just happened to be my foot in the door for the volleyball beat at the Daily News.
Assists were a tougher understanding, however, I jest as my sister may remember a call from me in late August asking how important they might be.
I will not soon forget the first volleyball match I covered in college. Ball State women’s volleyball swept Northern Kentucky and I remember how different it all seemed at the beginning. They still huddled up between each point, they played to 25 – which is an odd choice in my humble opinion – and one position was an Italian word but the rest were English. But the fanbases, oh the fanbases struck my interest immediately.
The crowd was not chaotic like football, not predictable like basketball, not bored like soccer. They had songs and jeers to coincide with calls and points, they had moments to boo and times to stand and dance for set point – it was naturally choreographed in a beautiful concerto of charisma for the players they cared for.
Since arriving at Ball State and joining the Daily News, I have covered just about every single sport that Ball State recognizes – the ones I haven’t, I have attended as a student or worked on the broadcast team through my student job with ChirpVision.
Fans show up to games in all sports, yes, but in all the events I have been to, there is nothing I have experienced that has felt more real, more competitive and more intense than a volleyball match.
When the Ball State men’s team upset No. 1 ranked Hawaii at home Jan. 29 – the noise was deafening as Kaleb Jenness’ kill sealed the sweep and Vanis Buckholz galloped around the court in celebration.
After Ball State women’s volleyball downed Michigan for their first NCAA Tournament win in 26 years, I texted my mom: “I want to do this forever.”
During the NCAA National Championship, I felt the press table shake as Hawai'i and Long Beach State fans chanted back and forth for their respective teams.
As the Cardinals swept Purdue Fort Wayne to win their 15th MIVA Tournament title, the atmosphere gave me chills and still does today.
So what is it about twelve players, a ball and a net that has seemingly stolen my attention?
Maybe it was the crowd, cheering with a passion, for the players and the game they loved, the close-knit community that I discovered in volleyball at Ball State or the rich history that comes with it. I have found myself immersed in the Shondell name during the past 10 months and the weight it carries in Muncie, the Midwest and across the country.
Maybe it was the physical exertion that isn’t quite like any other sport – the double-digit verticles followed by a pancake inches from the floor. Something often assumed is that volleyball is not a physically demanding sport and is easily compared to the nets at graduation parties or beach days. Watching practices and learning how to watch film, the respect I have for what players do on and off the court only grows in my mind.
Maybe it was the next level of tactical understanding that volleyball requires. Serving with techniques like topspin, floaters and short serves and running offenses in a 5-1 or a 6-2. A six set on the pin, a dump from the setter over the middle or catching the opposition out of their system. Learning the stat column, understanding the flow of play and trying to predict a team’s movement based on how they line up to receive a serve – it’s like solving a Rubix Cube.
Maybe it was the storylines, the infinite number of possibilities in a match, a series, a season. The run that men’s volleyball went on under first-year head coach Donan Cruz or the second Mid-American Conference (MAC) title in three years from women’s volleyball.
Maybe it was the reach that Ball State has in terms of volleyball. As a poster said at the MIVA Championship, “did someone say volleyball school?” Both women’s and men’s volleyball won their respective conferences in 2021-22 while making rumbles on the national stage. You can’t say Muncie or Ball State without it being tied to the word volleyball, Ball State is a volleyball school.
In all honesty, it could be none of the above. I just know that I have fallen in love with the sport of volleyball this year.
It might just be some unexplainable attraction that one catches and loses hold of over a period of time. I may move on to other sports and cover different events, but volleyball will somehow always have a place in my heart.
I truly hope I don’t ever lose hold of this one.