Following the conclusion of their historic season that included a Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship and a first NCAA Tournament win since 1995 in the 2021 season, Ball State Women’s Volleyball saw a transition period that included the departure of two assistant coaches, Tiffany Koors and Fritz Rosenberg, as well as four players.
Head coach Kelli Miller Phillips, who enters her seventh season in charge of the Cardinals in 2022, filled the coaching vacancies with Justin Wells and Tucker Bitting. Despite only having the full staff for a few months, Phillips said Ball State now has the opportunity to thoroughly vet all possibilities heading into the new season with fresh eyes.
“We've gone through everything [and] we reviewed everything; we're going to be the absolute best that we can be because this group has been so invested,” Phillips said. “They have been on it. I have been overly impressed with how forethought they are with just everything … They just add their personality, a new layer that's just going to build on what we've been doing. We just get to add more pieces, more minds, more kinds of competitiveness to this already great group that we have.”
The Cardinals also added six new players into the fold who will be poised to learn the culture of the Ball State Women’s Volleyball program.
“I think when you have a strong program culture, it's not about one person or two people or individuals, it's very much our program’s vision,” Phillips said. “Regardless of when people move in and out, whether it's staff players, whatever, it's if you have these core values and foundations that the program believes in and the players believe in, that's going to keep translating over year in, year out.”
While racking up 30 wins in 2021, senior Natalie Mitchem said Ball State’s bonding off the court was key and something the eight-time MAC Tournament champions will look to replicate this season.
“I feel like a lot of our success last [season] was that we were very connected and we could play with each other because we were very bonded off the court,” Mitchem said. “I feel like it's grown, even as new people have come in. We've been able to mesh with anybody that's come in and be able to feel like they've been there the whole time.”
Sophomore setter Megan Wielonski, who was named the 2021 Mid-American Conference (MAC) Freshman of the Year, said the Cardinals’ team chemistry was beneficial to newcomers in 2021 and has only continued to grow heading into 2022.
“As a freshman last year, I felt very, very welcomed, and [I] felt part of the team right away,” Wielonski said. “So as a sophomore now, I just want to kind of continue that with the freshmen, and I think the upperclassmen have done such a great job … including everyone, which has been so great.”
After landing on first-team All-MAC and American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-Midwest region lists, Wielonski is setting her sights on the Setter of the Year Award.
“Personally, I want to be Setter of the Year, and then I want to try to become an All-American Honorable Mention or better, but that's kind of my personal goal,” Wielonski said. “But I mean, as a team, definitely just [to] win [the] MAC again and have a really strong year.”
The Cardinals will begin the 2022 MAC season on the road against Central Michigan Sept. 23 at 6 p.m.