Growing up in Hamilton, Indiana, Cait Snyder had aspirations of playing volleyball in college. The only problem was Hamilton was not the ideal place for student-athletes to get noticed — her hometown high school had a student body of just 140, and the girls’ volleyball team went 9-21 the season before she would have arrived.
Snyder and her parents decided to tour larger high schools in the area, looking for one that would appeal to her academic and athletic needs.
They settled with Angola High School, about a 20-minute drive northwest of Hamilton, where Snyder had a four-year experience most athletes at her level haven’t — playing under four-time U.S. Olympian and men’s volleyball gold medalist Lloy Ball.
“I've had coaches that have opened it up so much for me, but I found that competitiveness under [Ball] because he's just a go-getter,” Snyder said. “He wants to win, and you can tell that when he coaches. When we lose, he takes it personal. I've really learned how to compete under him and want to win whereas before, it was kind of just for fun.”
There were many aspects of Snyder’s game, Ball said, he immediately noticed, like her wanting to understand why she was asked to do certain things and wanting to do whatever it took to play at the collegiate level.
“We're going to have a bunch of girls here in the near future that are going to go play in college, but I will always consider Cait as the trendsetter for us,” Ball said. “She had the kind of attitude that I would hope all young people — boys and girls — that are dreaming about playing in college take.”
Snyder, now a freshman outside hitter at Ball State, joined Angola in 2016, one year after Ball took the head coaching position. Ball said he took the job in 2015 to help turn around a program he thought was “average, to say the best.”
“As a person who is going to have his own daughter come through in a bunch of years, I wanted to take the program early enough to, hopefully, get things on the right path,” Ball said.
Knowing Snyder had the potential to play in college, Ball began playing her as a rotation player, despite being one of the team’s tallest players. She played all over the floor.
“If you look back in the archives of Angola volleyball, Cait was really the first six-rotation player that was good,” Ball said. “A lot of times, those bigger girls only play in the front row, but I knew she wanted to play Division I volleyball, and her ball control skills were so good. I felt it was my job to give her the opportunity to play six rotations.”
Snyder’s first season at Angola sparked a major turnaround for the program, as the Hornets finished the season with a 23-13 record. During Snyder’s tenure, the Hornets went 107-30 and won three Northeast Corner Conference Championships and a sectional title. Ball credited Snyder for helping shape Angola’s girls’ volleyball program into what it is today.
“If the kid has God-given ability to play at the next level, it's my job to individually try to make that happen but still keep that within a team setting so the entire team is successful,” Ball said. “I held her to an unbelievable standard — even higher than some of the other girls on the team — because I knew of her potential.”
Snyder even joined Ball’s club program, Team Pineapple Volleyball Club, during her senior year. According to its website, Team Pineapple’s goal is to “make sure every prospective student-athlete can achieve their aspirations of competing at the collegiate level.” Snyder said that experience helped her grow and improve her skill set.
“I was able to learn from them a lot and kind of take snippets away from each and every one of them, which, I think, has helped me in my game,” Snyder said.
Ball said he doesn’t take credit for any of Snyder’s success because, ultimately, she was the one who made it happen. He added that “if she can play for me, she can play for anybody.”
Ball State Women’s Volleyball head coach Kelli Miller Phillips first noticed Snyder between her sophomore and junior years of high school when she played club at Empowered Volleyball Academy in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She said she could tell she had learned a lot from playing for Ball.
“Cait is definitely a competitor,” Miller Phillips said. “Whenever I watched her play and train with him, she learned to compete and get after it. He's really good about finding ways to help each individual player just get a little bit better.”
Miller Phillips said Snyder’s fearlessness quickly drew her attention, and her constant desire to learn is what makes her special.
“She’s going to go out there, take big swings and compete hard,” Miller Phillips said. She's going to get better and just keep growing each and every time she's out there. That’s a tribute to her coachability. I'm sure she learned that from coach Ball as well.”
Comparing Ball and Miller Phillips’ coaching styles, Snyder described Ball’s style as skill-oriented whereas Miller Phillips focuses on tactical information.
“Lloy is this hard, ‘go-get-it’ style,” Snyder said. “He will tell you what you did wrong, and he'll let you know. [Miller Phillips] is not as vocal as Lloy, which I don't hate because, at this point, I already know what I'm doing wrong.”
Ball said he believed if Snyder wanted to play abroad or professionally in the United States, he has “no doubt she could make some money.” However, he also said she is more than just a volleyball player.
“Her family, her faith, her community and her academics all go hand in hand,” Ball said. “Sometimes, kids just go to play volleyball or basketball, and they forget that there’s a lot of other things that go with it. I feel like Cait is a very well-rounded young lady, and I think that will serve her well.”
Contact Evan Weaver with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @evan_weaver7.