Even when he was just a quiet, reserved outside attacker for the men’s volleyball team at Ball State University in the early 1990s, a future in coaching was always a possibility for Paul Baxter.
“I always kind of liked it because I like how things come together,” said Baxter. “Trying to figure out the moving pieces and everything is the biggest part of coaching I like.”
Baxter is making his Olympic Games coaching debut as head coach for Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena on the men’s side and Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat on the women’s side.
“We’ve been going all over the place; it’s been a grind,” said Baxter on working with Dalhausser and Lucena for the past year. “It’s kept us sharp and made us have to work for it.”
Baxter played for Ball State from 1992 to 1994 and helped lead the men’s volleyball team to a 1994 NCAA Tournament berth. His former assistant coach, Steve Shondell, said he was a strong attacker and good at “tooling the block like a kitchen appliance.”
“Paul had excellent vision seeing the court,” said Shondell. “He was a high-flyer too and a Ball State crowd favorite.”
Baxter, who’s originally from Columbia Heights, Minnesota, said that he will always treasure his experience in Muncie.
“I think everybody looks back and loves their college time,” said Baxter. “We had a really good team, and a lot of experiences came from that.”
Baxter began to dabble in coaching while he was at Ball State, when he worked with the summer volleyball camps. Baxter has also coached at Loyola Marymount for women’s volleyball and is currently coaching the under-16 and under-17 Girls Junior National Volleyball Championships.
“Paul was very quiet and reserved as a player, which is why it is somewhat of a surprise to me that he went on to coach at the Olympic Games,” said Shondell. “But he was a great teammate. He always put his teammates ahead of himself.”
Baxter says he learned a lot from playing under Don Shondell, who is known as the founding father of Ball State’s volleyball program.
Shondell, who was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1996, led Ball State to 18 MIVA championships and, according to the Shondell family themselves, helped make Ball State known as the “Volleyball Capital of the Nation.”
“It’s crazy when you look back at how he kind of pioneered this program,” said Baxter. “It’s amazing what he built. All of the people that played for him are spread across the country coaching.”
Even though Fendrick and Sweat lost in preliminaries and Dalhausser and Lucena lost in the quarterfinals, it’s obvious that Ball State’s impact on volleyball has been felt not only in the United States but also across the world.
“I do a lot of work with juniors, and I run into all these former Ball State guys who are recruiting,” said Baxter. “We see them on the road sometimes, and it’s really good to be able to catch up.”
Now that the Olympics are over, Baxter will go back to coaching indoor volleyball with the A4 Volleyball club from Orange County, California.
Hendrix Magley is a Ball State University student and writer for Ball State at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and facebook.com/bsuatthegames on Facebook.