Q&A with Ball State coach Walton on recruiting, growing his program

It’s not as big of a challenge any more for coach Joel Walton to recruit players to Ball State.

Walton said interview with Off the Block earlier this week that the university building a new training facility for the team and awarding additional men’s volleyball scholarships has significantly improved Ball State’s latest recruiting classes.


Check out the complete interview with Walton as he discusses recruiting players to Ball State, how his team is preparing for the 2015 season and how he was able to schedule big non-conference matches for the upcoming season.

Off the Block: Coach, the last time we saw your team you were battling in the MIVA Tournament. What has the off-season been like for Ball State?

Joel Walton: The off-season for all of us is always about recruiting. It’s about scheduling and basically getting things prepared for next season. We’ve talked to our guys about the importance of them continuing to train and condition in the summer time, but there is nothing we can do to enforce that or guarantee that the guys are actually training. This for us is a little bit of a nervous time because we sent our guys free. Sometimes our incoming recruits will play more in the summer time because they are still competing with their club teams. But, we are hoping what we will find is that when the guys return in August they’ve worked hard over the summer. They’ve conditioned and improved both their fitness levels and their strengths. Then there are guys who have injury issues or just other conditioning issues and they’ve remedied those and they are ready for enduring what is a very long and continuous season.

OTB: For a current player, is it difficult during the summer for them to stay in volleyball shape because there aren’t many club teams for them to play on? How big of a challenge is it that you’ve experienced with current players?

JW: There are two different things that they guys could do over the summer that is going to help them when they return. One of them is to play. That’s kind of a difficulty for many of our guys unless they are returning to communities where their former club team is training to prepare for summer tournaments or if there are summer leagues or tournaments for them to compete in their area so they can be playing the game. So that’s one way they can stay in shape and be prepared, but really for a lot of our guys the best thing they can do is to get into a three or four-day workout routine during the summer time and just maintain that routine. So they may not be playing that much volleyball but they are going to come back athletically. They are going to come back and be stronger, more powerful and more in-shape ready for the season.

OTB: Looking at the season, every year you always try to schedule a tough non-conference schedule. Do you have any big non-conference matches that you are excited about for 2015?

JW: I think we have a really good non-conference schedule. We’re going to be playing from the East Coast: Penn State, George Mason, Harvard, Princeton, St. Francis and Sacred Heart. From the West Coast we are going to playing at BYU on back-to-back nights there, at [UC] Irvine and at UC San Diego. Then from Conference Carolinas we are going to playing at Mount Olive and Barton.

OTB: With that BYU series, your two teams haven’t played in almost a decade. How did that series come about getting scheduled?

JW: We were actually trying to set up a trip out to Hawai’i because we haven’t played in Hawai’i in a couple of years. The West Coast schedule came out so late that we had saved a weekend early in January to play in Hawai’i, and then when the West Coast schedule came out, I think they really needed to find an opponent to play in March because they had a two weekend in a row hole in March. Unfortunately, we couldn’t sell those dates. So then as I began to start talking to other West Coast teams trying to find a situation where we can go out and play someone on the West Coast and I ran into [BYU coach] Chris McGown. They had an open weekend.


OTB: In talking to you and other coaches, it seems like there is going to be a lot more non-conference matches this year against the MPSF. Do you feel that is a byproduct of the NCAA Tournament at-large selection process last season or do you think it’s more a matter of these West Coast teams having more open dates available?

JW: It’s hard to say exactly. You are probably going to get the closest answer in talking to the West Coast coaches. I think anything the NCAA can do to encourage more inter-conference competition is going to be a good thing. If the NCAA Tournament selection process encourages teams to play outside of their conference than that’s fantastic. I know it has been very difficult for the West Coast teams playing 24 or their allowable 28 dates in their conference to schedule non-conference play. So having those two additional dates — even though I would trade those dates in a heartbeat to still have Pacific operating their men’s volleyball program — for many people gave an increased opportunity to play against the West Coast teams.

OTB: Looking at your team for the upcoming season, you are going to be replacing a setter and two All-American middle attackers. What you looking for in those positions as players try to come in and fill the voids?

JW: We’ve got Connor Gross and Hiago Garchet as our two most likely candidates to play setter. What we want in that position is someone who can understand our offense and distribute the ball to a good location for our attackers to hit the shots that they want to hit. The middle is really going to be a challenge because we’re losing both of our starters in that position and two guys that have been named All-Americans either by Volleyball Magazine or the AVCA. That’s a really big hole. We’ve got returning players Julian Welsh-White, Alex Pia and we’ve got incoming players Matt Walsh and Anthony Lebryk. We’ve got four guys that I’m sure are excited about the opportunity to earn both starting middle attacker positions. It’s just like every year, you’re not going to be the same team you were the year before. We always graduate players and then have to figure out what guys are going to step into the roles of the guys who left.

OTB: In looking at your recruiting, four years ago Ball State awarded your team more scholarship money so you can compete at or near the NCAA maximum of four scholarships. How beneficial has those extra scholarships been to your team and for you while recruiting?

JW: I can’t even express how significant that extra scholarship money is. We put together the last couple of years some very good scholarship packages for recruits. And we are back because of the history of our program, because of the facilities that we have and due to the fact that Ball State is such a great campus to get an education on. All of those pieces were there, but we weren’t offering scholarship packages that were comparable to our competitors. Now we are and all those other strengths become just additional reasons for why kids are going to chose Ball State instead of another school. We are starting to see in the last few recruiting classes better and better athletes coming into our program. As we get those kids experienced, you’re going to see a very much improved Ball State product here in the upcoming seasons.

OTB: As you well know, Ball State came out this summer and announced they not only wanted to build a new practice facility for your team but wanted to name it after former Ball State men’s volleyball coach Don Shondell. What’s your thoughts about the facility and having it named after Shondell?

JW: We are getting a new practice facility, but also in creating that new facility the men’s and women’s basketball teams are going to move form their current [locker room] locations and into the new building and new locker rooms. What does that does for us is we are going to both renovate our locker rooms space and greatly increase the size of our team’s locker room. Those things combined with a new practice gym that gives us another space to train our team in, better access to training times and ideal training times for our team, all those things are fantastic. I’m super excited about having the university name that facility in honor of Don Shondell. Everything that he has meant not only for volleyball at Ball State but really for volleyball throughout the Midwest, I think that’s a great honor. It will be nice to literally cement his legacy somewhere on Ball State’s campus.”

OTB: You look at Ball State as a whole, the last couple of years you have gotten a new athletics director in Bill Scholl and most recently a new president in Paul Ferguson starting this fall. You have more scholarship money. Is there a feeling just among your team that there is a cultural shift within the athletics department?

JW: I can speak from my relationship with Bill Scholl. I’ve very much enjoyed having Bill as an athletics director. He’s had an opportunity to come in and establish a vision for what he wants the department to become. Ball State right now has been very supportive of Bill’s vision. It’s a great time to be at Ball State both because we’ve got an athletics director that’s doing a good job leading the department and the school itself is very interested at increasing Ball State’s exposure through athletics.