5 storylines for men’s volleyball fans to follow this NCAA women’s volleyball season

With the start of the NCAA women’s volleyball season today, it means the men’s volleyball season is about four months away from beginning.

It’s still the offseason, but men’s and women’s volleyball do not exist completely separate of each other — and there are plenty of tie-ins for the college men’s volleyball fan to follow during the 2011 women’s volleyball season.

Check out the top five storylines for the college men’s volleyball fan to follow this women’s volleyball season.

1. The spirit of McCutcheon in Minnesota
Three years after leading the U.S. Men’s National Team to an Olympic gold medal, Hugh McCutcheon will take over the Minnesota women’s volleyball team — sort of. The Gophers hired McCutcheon in February to succeed the retired Mike Hebert as their women’s volleyball head coach. However, McCutcheon will not be on the Minnesota sidelines this season because he is also the head coach for the U.S. Women’s National Team for the 2012 Olympics. Despite not coaching Minnesota this season, still expect for McCutcheon to influence the Gophers through his coaching staff. McCutcheon hired one of his former U.S. Men’s National Team players, libero Alfee Reft, and former Pacific All-American setter Chris Tamas to be assistant coaches for the upcoming season. Laura Bash will be Minnesota’s interim head coach until McCutcheon joins the Gophers at an unspecified, mutually agreed upon future date following the 2012 Olympics. The Gophers are No. 12 in the preseason coaches poll and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinals last season.


2. Battle of the Shondells
Two sons of Don Shondell, the founder of college volleyball in the Midwest and a former Ball State men’s volleyball head coach, will coach against each other as Ball State and Purdue play in a non-conference match Sept. 10 in West Lafayette, Ind. Steve Shondell enters his second season as the Cardinals women’s volleyball head coach after turning around the sub-.500 program and leading it to the 2010 MAC regular season championship in his first season. Dave Shondell is in his ninth season with the Boilermakers and helped guide Purdue to the NCAA Tournament Regional Finals last season, including upsetting No. 1 Florida. In addition, John Shondell, the youngest of Don Shondell’s sons, is an assistant coach at Purdue. All three Shondell sons also played for their Hall of Fame father while they attended Ball State and were All-MIVA players. The only thing missing from this in-state rivalry match between Ball State and Purdue is making it a trophy game and the winner getting a 50-pound bronze bust of Don Shondell.

3. The Pavlik household
Heather Pavlik, the wife of Penn State men’s volleyball head coach Mark Pavlik, will begin her first season as the head coach of the Juniata women’s volleyball team. As an assistant coach for the last 15 years, Heather Pavlik helped lead Juniata to the 2004 and 2006 NCAA Division III championship. She also was a three-time All-American as a player for Juniata in the 1990s and was inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame. Heather Pavlik was named the head coach at Juniata after former coach Larry Bock announced his retirement. If typical expectations for a Pavlik coached team are met, expect Juniata to be the NCAA Tournament and competing for national title this season. Mark Pavlik in his 17 seasons as Penn State’s head coach has led the Nittany Lions to 16 NCAA Final Four appearances.

4. Switching from the men’s to women’s game
Two high-profile college men’s volleyball assistant coaches during the summer announced they would coach a women’s volleyball team for the 2011 season. Dan Fisher resigned as an assistant coach with the Hawai’i men’s volleyball team to become the head coach of the Concordia University women’s volleyball team. The NAIA school has advanced to the National Championships six times in the last seven years — and won two national championships during that stretch. In addition, David Kniffin after winning the 2011 AVCA Men’s Volleyball Assistant Coach of the Year award left UC Irvine to be an assistant coach for the Illinois women’s volleyball team. The Illini are ranked No. 8 in the preseason coaches poll.

5. Transitioning from player to coach
Several recent all-conference and All-American men’s volleyball players will begin their college coaching careers this season as women’s volleyball assistant coaches. Former Ball State All-American middle attacker Anders Nelson will be a volunteer assistant coach for Kentucky this season. Nelson will be coaching under Ball State alumni and Kentucky hed coach Craig Skinner. The Wildcats were receiving votes in the preseason coaches poll. Along with Nelson, former Ball State All-MIVA libero Billy Ebel will be a first-year assistant coach for the University of Missouri at Kansas City. The Roos in the preseason coaches poll were predicted to finish the Summit League in seventh place.