Delaware County, Indiana. A population of 114,461 people. Lesser known to a majority of the United States population. A powerhouse in AAU volleyball.
Munciana Volleyball Club has experienced success on the travel volleyball club circuit with 38 national championships, 22 Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Championships, 15 USA Volleyball Championships and one Junior Volleyball Association (JVA) Championship.
The success started in 1974 when Steve Shondell, son of Don Shondell — the man who started the Ball State Men’s Volleyball program — took 12 players from the then-Muncie Northside High School, now Northside Middle School, and formed the original Munciana volleyball team. In this team’s first season, they placed seventh in the national tournament at Oakland University in Michigan.
By 1982, the first national championship came from the 13-and-under (13U) boy’s team, Munciana 13. The MVP of that team for the tournament and All-American was John Shondell, brother of Steve and current assistant for another Shondell brother, Dave, at Purdue.
In a 2017 article from the JVA, JVA Club Director Dave Weitl attributed Munciana’s success to applying feedback from coaches, consistency and pacing when it comes to training at different levels.
Munciana’s mission statement is “we are committed to teaching and training young athletes and educating coaches to teach the game of volleyball.”
By having 13U teams, Munciana is able to meet that mission statement of teaching young athletes the ins and outs of volleyball.
“Munciana has shaped my entire culture when it comes to volleyball,” third-year libero for Ball State Women’s Volleyball Kate Vinson said. “They taught me so much of the basics and just how to work hard and grind it out, and they made the transition to college volleyball so much easier.”
Vinson said one of the ways Munciana prepared her for playing at Ball State was practicing at a pace more accustomed to collegiate players.
The coaches at Munciana trained their players to play at the next level but also reaffirmed their players after all of the work they put in.
“The coaches did a great job making you understand you were good enough to play anywhere you wanted to,” Zoe Conway, third-year libero for Ball State Women’s Volleyball, said. “It is the culture too, it is obviously intense, but the people next to you could be going Power Five; it did not matter — there was just a lot of respect between players.”
With that respect comes bonds formed among teammates and coaches.
“Having grown the connections with all of the coaches I have had is really special to me,” Vinson said.
Vinson and Conway both started to play for Munciana when they were 12 years old. They were on the same team every year they played for the volleyball club.
“Playing with Vinny [Vinson] was special to me,” Conway said. “She was a consistent teammate, and she grew into being one of my best friends.”
While playing for Munciana, Conway and Vinson were able to get experience playing against some of the best players and teams in the nation during national tournaments.
“Being in nationals every year was a great experience,” Conway said. “We were always pretty successful … I’d say we did pretty good, so that was always a cool way to end out the year.”
Current head coach of the University of Kentucky Women’s Volleyball team, Craig Skinner, was born in Muncie, a former outside hitter for Men’s Volleyball at Ball State and a coach for Munciana. Skinner was also an assistant coach for the Men’s Volleyball team at Ball State from 1999-2000.
Skinner’s tenure as a coach for Munciana started in the spring of 1990 when he was an active player for the Cardinals.
“I was the junior varsity coach for Muncie Burris High School in my first year back at Ball State after transferring from Michigan when Dave Shondell asked me if I wanted to coach at the club,” Skinner said.
He said he remembers the excitement and joy that came with coaching at Munciana.
“You love the people you work with,” Skinner said. “You build a relationship with the families and a relationship with the Muncie community and the organization. When you represent Munciana in tournaments and matches, you feel an enormous sense of pride.”
From Skinner’s point-of-view, the coaches and consistency are what have helped turn Munciana into a powerhouse, reinforcing the beliefs of Vinson, Conway and Weitl.
“As a coach [at Munciana], you are not basing your opinion on one coach or one player or one season, but you are basing your judgment and reasoning on years and years of success and teaching,” Skinner said. “There is a reason why great organizations sustain over time, and it typically is the guiding principles, the foundation and those running the organization.”
While Munciana has a nationwide presence in the volleyball community, Skinner still believes it remains somewhat unknown to the general population.
“Muncie, Indiana, is this little blip on the radar in terms of the country and the size of the city, but it is a major blip on the radar in terms of volleyball recognition,” Skinner said.