MUNCIE – The noise coming from a recent Burris volleyball practice is audible from the entrance doors of the Ball State Student Recreation and Wellness Center. It’s so loud that an observer might think it was the fifth set of a sectional match, not the end of a four-hour preseason practice.
“Those people on the bikes up there,” Burris coach Mike Dodrill said during a break in practice, pointing to the fitness center some 100 yards away, “have been getting annoyed with us all week. These girls are just full of energy.”
Later in practice, the chatter stops suddenly. A young boy watching from the second level asked, “Why’s it so quiet?”
The reason for the silence is that Dodrill started instructing a player. Perhaps it was nothing, but perhaps it was a sign that the first-year coach has already captured his new team’s attention — and more importantly, its respect.
Dodrill said the transition from being their teacher at Burris, where he has taught the last 14 years, to coach has been smooth. He laid out team rules from the beginning, and the players have abided.
“Being one of our teachers at Burris, a lot of us have had him already,” Taylor Jackson said. “And respect is his biggest thing while in the classroom, as well as on the volleyball court.”
The communication was so free-flowing that it’s also surprising only four players who got significant time last season are back: Abby Ludwick, Anna Bilello, Alissa Kunczt and Jackson.
As a result, Dodrill is going to rely on several freshmen, including Mykel Ivy.
“All of us stick together and encourage each other a lot,” Ivy said of how the team has grown together so quickly. “Sometimes people want to get down on themselves, but we just tell them that they can do it, to keep going and push through.”
Dodrill is trying to be realistic with a team which went 18-17 last season under John Rodriguez. He recognizes the potential, but is preaching patience, as any coach would with a young team.
“The challenge is going to be getting ready just to play,” Dodrill said. “Sometimes when we play each other, we look pretty good, but we’re just playing other inexperienced players. The challenge is to get game speed, to where other schools with more experience are at.”
The Owls are pleased with their progress thus far, and they’re excited to see where they are a month or two from now.
“We’re such a new team that progression is such a big thing,” Jackson said. “We’ve been going at it for two-and-a-half months now, and from then until now, we’ve seen such a big improvement.”
Contact sports features writer Ryan O’Gara at (765) 213-5829. Follow him on Twitter @RyanOGaraTSP.