Have you ever met someone, and they instantly feel like an old friend? That was how it felt when I had the pleasure of talking with Purdue Volleyball’s head coach, Dave Shondell. He has a warm soul feel about him that makes him approachable and personable. We sat and chit chatted about life, volleyball, Matt Painter, and his family.
Coach Shondell is in his 21st season with the Boilers and taking his team to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in five years. They face a tough Oregon squad on Thursday and as he takes me into the film room to talk, he points to the whiteboard. He has Oregon’s roster written on it. He stops and says, “You notice anything?” Five of their main players are seniors, another a junior. Compare this to Purdue who starts three freshmen. They’re more experienced, they’re bigger and they are playing really good volleyball right now. Of course, Coach says it’s a familiar feeling. They played Oregon back in 2020 as the underdog when Purdue beat the Ducks advancing to the Elite 8. Because of their size and ability, they need to control parts of the game they can emphasizing their serving, passing and defense.
Purdue is also playing really good volleyball right now as well. They ended the season on a 7-game win-streak, swept Fairfield and beat a gritty Marquette team in four on Friday. They ended the season really well but there were some speed bumps along the way. A home loss to Loyola, being swept at home by Creighton and a loss at Indiana. I asked what has changed in this team from that to beating Wisconsin and sweeping Minnesota and Penn State; something in which he acknowledges they have never done in a single season before. “We start three freshman and that first weekend we lost two matches. That didn’t surprise me. We have a freshman setter which is like having a freshman point guard or a freshman quarterback. To me, we are right on schedule.” And he’s not wrong, we really watched some of these players really grow up this season like we often see young teams do. But they’re competitive and he highly touted that they are the most competitive players he’s ever been around.
Speaking of freshman, he has two pretty good ones in setter Taylor Anderson and Chloe Chicoine. When Megan Renner tore her acl over the summer, he went to the portal and landed an experienced setter from Colorado, Lorrin Poulter, he expected to start. I asked if Taylor had exceeded expectations as she has stepped into the starting role; “Yeah, I really thought Poulter would start because it’s hard to come in as a freshman in the Big Ten and run an offense. But she’s fearless. She reminds me of Jay Edwards a while back out of IU because she makes everything look easy. We continue to push her because we know she can do even more”. Anderson is 6’1” but you rarely see her attack at the net even when she is capable, and he discussed wanting her to be more selfish. Take the hit or tip if she has it but has a servant mentality of feeding her hitters. To Anderson’s defense she has a trio of hitters at her disposable who can all easily take over a game in Hudson, Chicoine and Colvin.
Chloe Chicoine is the other starting freshman who has made an early mark on this squad, at only 5’10”, the outside hitter was the #1 recruit in the country in high school. Originally poised to go to Penn State she withdrew her commitment when the head coach left. From there she called Shondell and asked if he still had a spot for her, he laughed and said, “yeah I think I can find you a spot”.
She had competed with older players on the U21 National Team, but he still wasn’t sure what she’d be like when she got to Purdue. She came early in January and he said at the first practice he knew she’d be just fine adapting to the Big Ten, and she has, earning herself a place on the Big Ten All Freshman team.
Purdue has yet to make the final four in volleyball so I asked what does this team need to do to finally break through? He says just keep doing what they’re doing and be competitive. They tend to do better when they get into the match and face the opponent to make adjustments rather than listen to what their coaches say. They have four days to prepare for Oregon; they can’t control how well the opponent will play but they can focus on areas they can control and they plan on doing just that.
I asked coach what he does in his free time when he’s not in season; he likes to golf, spend time on the lake with his wife and is a huge college basketball fan. He also has four children, his son followed in his dad’s footsteps and is coaching volleyball at Butler. You can usually find his kids and all ten of his grandchildren in Holloway during game days cheering on their dad/grandpa.
He attends every game in Mackey and is buddies with Matt Painter. In fact, he actually coached against Matt when he was playing basketball in high school. He texted him after watching the presser following the loss to Northwestern and said I don’t know how he handles the scrutiny all the time. I rarely have to go through that, and they are just grilling him over the loss, and he handles it so well. I agreed, we are both big Matt Painter fans as a person and coach.
The players started to file in as we wrapped up the interview so we walked out so they could take their seats. I wished him well this week and that Boiler nation is behind them. And Coach, I’m going to hold you to those beers at Hunters Pub but I’ve seen your salary, tabs on you.