By Mike Deak
WARSAW – Warsaw volleyball head coach Chandra Hepler said the man loves his Penguin Point, and she wasn’t kidding.
In between sessions of Wednesday’s volleyball camp, Steve Shondell wasted little time announcing he was hungry. As his beloved Penguin Point was delivered, Shondell quietly went to work devouring the contents of his order. His love for one of Warsaw’s cornerstone food franchises might only be trumped for his first love, volleyball, and lucky him, both were plentiful as he conducted his Steve Shondell Hall of Fame Perfect Skills Camp in the Tiger Den.
Shondell’s résumé is unmatched in the sport of volleyball. Muncie Burris High School is a national volleyball powerhouse, and it’s largely because of Shondell. Founding the Munciana Volleyball Club in Muncie, Shondell also began coaching at Burris. Enter the Hall of Fame résumé as the program won 21 state titles in 34 years with Shondell as head coach. Without bragging, Shondell brought up the success factors in his career to the 80-plus girls in attendance Wednesday afternoon, most of which likely had never heard of him. He also lauded one of the campers wearing a well-coordinated Munciana T-shirt
“We didn’t win 21 state titles by serving at teams,” quipped Shondell as he diagrammed precision serving techniques with his support staff doing the physical labor. Much of the first hour of his camp didn’t even involve a ball traveling over a net, just attention to detail. “If you hit it on a beeline to zone two, teams can’t set up their offense. Hit it there every time, and watch the points pile up.”
To date, he has amassed 1,209 wins to just 102 losses in those 34 years, an astounding figure that ranks among the most elite winning percentages among any coach in any sport. He also coached at Ball State and returned to Burris last year as an interim coach, leading the Owls to a top-five ranking in Class 3-A for a school of 471 students.
“I really believe Burris is back,” offered Shondell, even with the powerhouse Burris devoid of a sectional title since 2014. “I think we can be the best team in the state in any class, not just this year, but the next two or three years. But you look around, and Warsaw is a gold mine. Today has proven Chandra has this program headed in the right direction in a hurry.”
Hepler, who herself played for Steve Shondell with the Munciana Club during her high school career at Warsaw, now coaches in the high school offseason within the Shondell tree with the Boiler Juniors club team, started by Steve’s brother, John. Her daughter, Ellie, is a star player on the club and recently helped the 12U team to a runner-up finish at AAU Nationals in Florida.
Ellie was part of the contingent listening to Steve offer advice on getting better through the little details. But it was Steve who learned a little in between sessions when he found out Chandra will be a first-time high school head coach after over a decade as an assistant at multiple stops on the tour. He was surprised to hear the news.
“It’s relationships,” Shondell said of Hepler. “She has the ability to motivate, but she relates really well with people. She’s positive. I’ve found in my own career, if I stayed positive with my players, they learned from their errors rather than dreading the next one.
“Your attitude determines your altitude. The great ones understand that, whether they are playing or coaching or otherwise.“
Shondell, a Muncie resident who has spent summers on the lakes in Kosciusko County over the years, will moonlight at Tippecanoe Lake this year. Rather than hob knobbing about volleyball royalty and the who’s who of his craft, he spent much of his free time at the camp asking about where the good tenderloin sandwiches were. He know of his beloved Penguin Point, but was also tipped to Chubbies, a local favorite in Syracuse.
It didn’t surprise Hepler, who knew the stipulations of getting the legendary coach to Warsaw. Pay him through his stomach.
“Steve is something else, but he knows his stuff, I guess even tenderloins,” joked Hepler. “Whatever gets him here. But, really, this is quite a big deal to have someone like him working with the girls, and they probably don’t even realize just how successful he has been.
“Once you hear him talk and hear how he coaches, you realize really quickly just how special he is,” continued Hepler. “You hear about all of those accolades, it reinforces what he is doing on the court in these types of camps with the girls.”