HEPLERS LEARNING, TEACHING THE GAME THE SHONDELL WAY

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Written By Ink Free News / Sports on Monday, February 10, 2020

Volleyball has made a connection from the Shondell family to the Hepler family in Warsaw. Ellie Hepler (1) is part of Boiler Juniors club team, run by John Shondell, back left. Also in the photo with the team are former Purdue basketball coach Gene Keady and Dr. Don Shondell. (Photos provided)

WARSAW – Those who look for greatness tend to look in the shadows of those who have attained it.

In the volleyball world, specifically in the state of Indiana, the word ‘success’ is often spelled ‘S-H-O-N-D-E-L-L’.

Standing in line waiting to order lunch, Chandra Hepler glowed about her newly acquired job as Warsaw head volleyball coach. The longtime Warsaw assistant smiled as she started to piece together her offseason plans, which included virtual blueprints developed 25 years ago from her old WCHS coach, Penny Salm. You can hear it in her voice, the passion to bring Warsaw back to the top of the mountain like the team was in the mid-90s when Hepler, then Chandra Hopkins, was leading the Tigers at an All-State level.

But the fibers to Hepler’s volleyball know-how can be traced to what some refer to as the ‘First Family of Indiana Volleyball’ – the Shondell family.

Ellie Hepler of Warsaw poses with Purdue assistant volleyball coach John Shondell last summer after a club tournament.

Anyone familiar with organized volleyball in Indiana knows the Shondell name. It’s really more of a brand. They do things their way. They do things at a high level. They are mega successful. And thousands of volleyball players, coaches, parents and outsiders have been a part of their legacy.

That includes Hepler, who didn’t know at a young age that her family ties with the Shondells would one day become a lineage in passing down the game to her own children.

Terry Hoskins, Chandra’s father, was on the fast track to stardom as a prep football star at Warsaw High School. The 1965 graduate had offers from around the country, but also had the eye of a young woman. Rather than pursue football right out of high school, Terry got married. Four years later, he decided to walk onto the football program at Ball State. It was there that Terry, an education major, ran into a student teacher named Steve Shondell.

Steve Shondell would eventually become one of the most successful high school volleyball coaches in the country. Founding the Munciana Volleyball Club in Muncie, Shondell also began coaching at Muncie Burris High School. Burris soon became a national powerhouse, winning 21 state titles in 34 years with Shondell as head coach. To date, he has amassed 1,209 wins to just 102 losses in those 34 years, an astounding figure that ranks among the most elite winning percentages among any coach in any sport. He also coached at Ball State.

As Warsaw was making its own volleyball name in the mid-90s with an electric player named Chandra Hopkins, the desire to play high-level club was discussed in the Hopkins household. After Warsaw played Muncie Burris in the state tournament her junior year, Terry sought out Steve about the opportunity for his daughter to play for him in Munciana.

“Steve was my Indiana All-Stars coach my senior year and also coached in Munciana when I played down there. That was how it all got started,” recalled Hepler, who eventually became a star at the University of Missouri.

Ellie Hepler and Dr. Don Shondell pose for a photo last summer.

Fast forward to 2017, now with twin 10-year-olds and a four-year-old, Hepler was already into a second decade of coaching. Deciding to leave her alma mater of Warsaw and take on an assistant coaching role at Taylor University, volleyball life would get tougher. Just driving back and forth from rural Warsaw to Upland for the Taylor program was taxing enough, but Hepler’s 10-year-old, Ellie, was beginning to formulate her own aspirations in volleyball.

Those in the lifestyle tend to repeat.

As Ellie began to elevate her game and seek better competition, the Shondell name would surface once again. This time, John Shondell would pop up on the radar with a new club team based in Lafayette called Boiler Juniors. For the Hepler family, the U-10 team John Shondell was overseeing was the fit they desired, even if that meant driving two hours one way to practice three times a week. Yeah, that included trips the other direction to Taylor University for college season for Chandra.

But, it was opportunity the Heplers wanted to make work. And they made it work.

“I still realize how blessed we are to know the Shondells and have my daughter playing for them,” Hepler said. “I got to see the coaching first-hand when my daughter Ellie started playing for John Shondell and the Boiler Juniors. It hit me that it didn’t matter how old you are, you can always learn, whether you are in college or be 10 years old. My daughter gets to experience that in the mindset of a champion.”

Chandra, who returned to coach volleyball at Warsaw last season, soon began coaching Ellie’s travel team and found big-time success, winning the AAU Nationals last summer and finishing third at the USAV Nationals a couple weeks later. Life was starting to run in a déjá vu pattern for Chandra, almost watching herself elevate into an elite volleyball player all over again. Just from the position the Shondells held coaching her 25-plus years ago.

“I step back with a lot of pride,” Hepler said. “She’s been given a lot of opportunities to play sports at a level that I never did. I didn’t start playing until I was in fifth grade, and the jump she has now with the talent she has seen and how far she has already come. She aspires to be an Olympic volleyball player, that’s her goal. She told Mary Wise, the coach at Florida, that she wants to be the head coach of a college team on an all-female staff. And she is going to win nationals. She’s very headstrong and driven, far more than what I was at that age.”

If the teaching Ellie is getting has her on the fast track, Chandra Hepler may want to get Steve Shondell on the phone very soon.

Chandra Hepler, back left, and her daughter Ellie (1) are part of the Boiler Junior club volleyball program, which was founded by John Shondell.

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