Dave Shondell played a lot of golf.

“More than I have in the last 20 years,” the Purdue volleyball coach said. 

“Because we couldn’t do anything else. They didn’t want us in the office unless we had something very essential to do.”

So up until about a couple of weeks ago, he was on the links five days a week, often with other Purdue coaches. That included the men’s and women’s golf coaches at the Big Ten school in West Lafayette, Indiana.

“So I got a lot of instruction whether I wanted it or not from those people,” Shondell said. “But I did drop about six strokes off my handicap during the summer, so … “

Dave Shondell

Shondell, 62, with a handicap of nine, was more than ready, however, to put the golf clubs away and break out the volleyballs.

His team got back to town in late June and after a mandated quarantine started lifting as a group and hit some gyms off campus to play some volleyball. 

However, Shondell said one player tested positive for coronavirus, “and that shut everything down for 14 days, we came back for about a week and had another case, and that shut everything down for another 14 days, so it was a slow start.

“But we’re really pretty happy they postponed everything and I think it will be a really good season if we have it starting January 22nd.”

Purdue finished 24-8 last season, 14-6 in the Big Ten, as the Boilermakers finished fifth in the conference. They won their first two NCAA Tournament matches, beating Wright State and Marquette, before losing in four at top-seeded Baylor. 

Gone from that team are both middles, including Blake Mohler, now playing professionally in Germany, and Shavona Cuttino. Together they combined for 3.58 kills per set, while Mohler had 139 blocks and Cuttino 119. 

But the cupboard is hardly bare. 

For that matter, Purdue has four middles on the roster, starting with junior Grace Cleveland, who last season had 394 kills, 3.23/set, and 132 blocks. And there are three freshman middles, including Taylor Trammell, Lourdes Myers, and Molly Brown.

“We’ve got a lot of young players and a lot of talented young players,” said Shondell, starting his 18th year at Purdue. “I love to walk into our gym to practice. It’s the highlight of my day by far and the freshman class was undervalued by everybody that ranks them. We’ve got three kids, one (Trammell) is touching 10-6, one’s touching 10-5 (Myers), and the other one’s about 10-2 (Brown). And they just soak it up every day.”

While Mohler and Cuttino were the only seniors on the team last year, this year Purdue has only two again, VolleyballMag.com honorable-mention All-American outside Caitlyn Newton and defensive specialist Jena Otec. There are five juniors, including setter Hayley Bush and libero Marissa Hornung.

Caitlyn Newton

Newton, who had 19 kills in that NCAA match at Baylor, led the team in kills last season with 445 (3.9/set), had 41 aces, averaged 1.45 digs, and had 72 blocks, 15 solo.

Otec had a team-high 50 aces and averaged 3.48 digs. Hornung led in digs with 475 (3.89/set) and had 22 aces.

And Bush averaged 10.75 assists and 2.06 digs.

“Hayley Bush is tough as nails,” Shondell said. “And in this league your setter and libero are the heart of your team and if they’re tough, and they’re great leaders and great competitors, then you’ve got a chance to be OK.”

Purdue was third in the Big Ten in aces last season and fifth in digs. 

“The strength of our team is our first and second contacts,” Shondell said. “We have some really good offensive players, that’s our strength. We were the best passing team in the Big Ten last year. I thought we were the best serving team in the Big Ten last year. And Bush is really underrated as a setter. I’d put her right in the same category with the kid from Penn State (Gabby Blossom) and the kid from Nebraska (Nicklin Hames).”

One other defensive player is sophomore Maddie Schermerhorn. Her dad, Tom, who is the athletic director at West Noble High School in Ligonier, Indiana, lived through a long battle with COVID-19 this summer. He went into the hospital on March 30 and finally went home on April 25.

The Boilers have offense starting with Newton and Cleveland, who will play middle or right side, where she played last year. Jael Johnson, a junior middle who played sparingly last season, will be in the mix. So, too, will three sophomore outsides, Emma Ellis, Maddie Koch and Maddy Chinn. 

“Chinn has really been blowing it up in practice,” Shondell said. 

Last year, Wisconsin won the Big Ten, a game ahead of Nebraska, Minnesota, and Penn State, who tied for second at 17-3.

Those four will be favored again, but finishing fifth in the Big Ten is no small accomplishment. 

“The Big Ten will be and should be better than ever in 2020-21,” Shondell declared. Regardless, Shondell thinks preparation for the spring season will be different. He said he’s holding back, even though his team can practice 20 hours per week, “because our kids aren’t physically ready for it yet.

“We had some COVID cases, a lot of quarantines, so we missed a lot of conditioning that we would have gotten in during the summer. And after they postponed our season we sent them home for about a week before school started. They came back and we picked it back up.

“That’s one of the things that I think is going to be really important, how you manage.

“Emotionally and physically you have to be cautious. We play in this league where everybody grinds and grinds and grinds. I don’t think that’s going to work at the level that it normally it has.”

He laughed.

“Normally we have about two and a half weeks before we start playing matches,” Shondell said. “Now we’ve got what seems like two and a half years.

“We have to figure out how we’re going to keep everybody on task and motivated and at the same time not overdue it.”

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