Kyle Shondell is the sixth head coach in the program’s history. Photo by Jada Gangazha.
JIA SKRUDLAND | SPORTS REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
After a nationwide search, the Butler Athletics department released on March 7 that they had selected Kyle Shondell to take over the reins of the Butler volleyball program.
Shondell was recently named the 2022 AVCA National Coach of the Year, showcasing his success as a volleyball coach. He also has a diverse coaching background — he has experience coaching both women’s and men’s volleyball.
On the women’s side, he was an assistant coach at both Western Illinois and Chicago State and led Rock Valley College and Huntington University as a head coach. On the men’s side, he restarted Indiana Tech’s program, going 56-21 in his first three seasons and boasting a No. 3 national ranking in the NAIA — National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics — this past season.
When Shondell heard about the job opening, he knew somebody would have a good opportunity.
“I knew somebody would have a really good opportunity,” Shondell said. “There’s always been a thought about Butler being such a really, really good opportunity if somebody could do it well. The location of this school, in the volleyball stratosphere, is elite in the state of Indiana. The city of Indianapolis is two of the best areas for prep volleyball in the country. At a school like Butler with the academic reputation it has, the campus as beautiful as it is and facilities like this, it could be something really special. So, when I heard of it, I knew somebody would probably find a nice job.”
Luckily for Shondell, that somebody was him.
Shondell is no stranger to the sport of volleyball and especially on the coaching side. His father is the current head coach at Purdue, his uncle is an assistant coach with the Boilermakers and his grandfather started both the men’s and women’s programs at Ball State. Volleyball runs in his blood.
Barry Collier, Butler vice president and director of athletics, noted in the release that Shondell’s strong volleyball resume influenced the hiring decision ranging from coaching men’s and women’s to starting and sustaining programs while having success all around. Outside of his volleyball background and knowledge, Collier and the senior team for Butler Athletics were also impressed by the visions he had for what the program could evolve into and his excitement for coaching at Butler.
The decision to find a new coach came after Butler decided it was in their best interest to begin a new chapter of Butler volleyball. Continuous internal issues resulting in a revolving locker room door for several seasons ultimately prompted the program to go in a different direction and long-time head coach Sharon Clark to retire.
One of those issues included the lack of communication between the coaching staff and the players. Coach Shondell describes how he plans to ensure that everyone within the program will be on the same page.
“Just by being over-communicative,” Shondell said. “ In today’s world, when everybody’s getting an immense amount of feedback, communication, notification, you’ve got to overplay the noise. We’ll be in constant contact with our student-athletes and the rest of the program. It hasn’t been an issue for me in the past, but communication especially in this day and age is a huge priority.”
Along with the lack of communication, the other big issue surrounding the team was leadership’s inability to separate the student from the athlete and failure to realize that these young women are people with physical and emotional needs. Shondell believes that communication and consistency are key to coaching both the student and the athlete.
“It’s important that you have a good level of emotional intelligence, so you understand what they can handle and understand what they’re going through,” Shondell said. “Communication helps on that front too. Having a good relationship with them to where you don’t have to wonder what’s happening. The easiest way to hold high expectations is to do it consistently. Where you run into trouble is when you’re bouncing back and forth with expectations and standards. If you set the standard, and you hold the standard there, people will adjust quickly and be ok with it.”
Shondell is currently splitting his time between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis as he finishes his current season with Indiana Tech. Since the Warriors play at the NAIA level, Shondell adds the extra task of transitioning to the highest level of collegiate athletics — Division I.
While the task could seem daunting, Shondell is excited to coach and compete in the Big East conference that produces some of the best competition and is only getting stronger led by some great coaches in Creighton’s Kirsten Bernthal Booth and Marquette’s Ryan Theis.
The expectation he has for himself is to coach the team to success, but also to outwork others from both a coaching and team standpoint. He understands that reaching that expectation is not a breeze, but it can be a recipe for success.
“Every program that I’ve seen develop into successful programs has had the ability to outwork everybody else,” Shondell said. “It’s not an easy thing, that’s why nobody else does it. If the staff outworks every other staff, the team outworks every other team and we do it playing the right style of volleyball and we do it being the right type of people, then I think success will follow.”
Although Shondell wants to do the most he can to help his players be successful, he is aware that he is limited and credits his players for ultimately bringing the success — not him.
“It’s important to realize that I don’t bring the success,” Shondell said. “They will, the players will. The first thing I get to do is get out of the way and let them nourish and cultivate their own culture and their own process and their own success. I just get to make sure that they’re not cheating themselves, that they’re working as hard as they can and that they understand the process. The best thing I can do, especially right now, is positively shape where the culture is. But again, I don’t create it, they do, and so getting out of their way and allowing them to be successful.”
John Dedman, associate athletic director of athletic communications, clarified that players on the team are not part of the hiring process in terms of evaluating candidates. However, the players seem to be satisfied with the final decision. Shondell has only been on campus for a couple of weeks, but he’s already been able to make a positive impact on the program and players.
The team has been doing their workouts and has had some practices with Shondell allowing them to see what it will be like working with him moving forward and into the fall season.
Even with the short amount of time thus far, sophomore middle blocker Destiny Cherry has started to see the excitement from the team with Shondell’s leadership
“I think he already has an idea of what he wants from the team, which is a breath of fresh air because we weren’t really sure what was happening for a long time,” Cherry said. “I think coming in with a plan, especially for what he wants out of all of us in the spring, is something that we’re all excited about. We have something to work towards now, so I think we’re all really excited to see where he can take us.”
Sophomore pin hitter Mariah Grunze agrees with Cherry on how the future looks bright with Shondell.
“It’s very fresh still, it’s kind of only been a week,” Grunze said. “I see him as a very respectable coach and man. He seems to be very knowledgeable on [volleyball] … very excited to see what he has in store for us. It’s gonna be a lot of work, but I’m excited. I think he’s gonna be a good switch, good change.”
Cherry also is confident that Shondell has the ability to help the team be successful.
“One thing he’s really huge on is effort, intensity and competitiveness,” Cherry said. “All of those things are fantastic from a volleyball sense. He wants to build our team culture, to be able to make it the best it can be for when new people come in. We are the foundation of the program for right now. He wants to make sure that we set a solid foundation for kids that come in after.”
Building a solid foundation results in an environment where players can go to him outside of volleyball needs. Throughout his coaching years, Coach Shondell found that to be the most important role of a coach.
“I think that being a resource … for your players, being an open door for your players, is huge. So many head coaches have a closed-door mentality, it’s important to be open,” Shondell said.
As Butler volleyball takes its next step in the right direction, Shondell’s end goal is bringing winning volleyball back to Butler and the city of Indianapolis.
“[My goal is] to build Butler volleyball into the program that I know it can be,” Shondell said. “The city being of Indianapolis is a volleyball hotbed. They love the sport of volleyball…. here this city would love it if Butler played a great brand of volleyball. I want to provide that. I want to build excitement in the city of Indianapolis around Butler volleyball. I want to put butts in seats. I want to provide a world-class experience to every student-athlete that comes to play here because that means we get the best people, the best players and the program succeeds for a very, very long time.”