FORTVILLE — Eric Bulmahn had to wait two years into his collegiate enrollment to get a tryout with the nationally-renowned Ball State men’s volleyball team. The Cardinals were so good, they didn’t need to have open tryouts.
Under the tutelage of Don Shondell, Bulmahn eventually suited up for the Cardinals and blossomed into an all-conference player who would go on to play five years on the Midwest Professional Volleyball Beach Circuit, become a tenured club coach and referee four Final Fours.
It seems Mt. Vernon could not have found a more experienced individual to head its volleyball program. But, it’s up to Bulmahn and the MV administration to decide if he’s the right man for the job.
Earlier this week, the Mt. Vernon school board approved Bulmahn as the team’s interim coach. The position became vacant after seven-year coach Kris Lashaway stepped down following the 2013 season.
Both Mt. Vernon and Bulmahn aren’t quite ready to make a full-time commitment to the program.
“This allows us time to look at our possible openings for teaching and staff positions to get a permanent coach,” MV co-athletic director Greg Roach said. “Eric could be the permanent coach as well, but this will allow an opportunity to see if it can work for him time-wise while also running the business he owns.”
A general manager of Partner Intelligence, a software consulting business, Bulmahn didn’t want the Marauders to get behind on their offseason activities. Bulmahn’s daughter, Jaclyn, was an all-Hancock County and honorable mention all-Hoosier Heritage Conference selection as a freshman last fall.
“The school needs someone to get the ball rolling as far as summer and developmental leagues. They have a couple of people they want to talk to,” Bulmahn said. “There’s new talent coming in, and you have to make some adjustments. I didn’t want to see them wait until May to get into a summer league; a lot of the leagues will be filled up by then.”
In addition to his business duties, Bulmahn still referees men’s and women’s Division I volleyball – a gig he doesn’t want to give up.
“I definitely want to keep doing that. Once you get to a certain level, it’s a lot of fun,” said Bulmahn, a longtime coach with Circle City Volleyball Club. “I’ve had over 80 kids I’ve coached go on to play Division I, and it’s fun to see them play.”
If everything could work out, Bulmahn would be interested in the full-time position.
“If I can get the business aspect together – that’s got to be first and foremost, to take care of the family – but I would have an interest if that was able to work together,” he said.
Under Shondell, who built the Ball State men’s program from a club program into a 15-time NCAA tournament qualifier, Bulmahn started his career as an outside hitter before ending his tenure as the starting middle blocker for the ninth-ranked Cardinals. After Ball State advanced to the 1985 Final Four, Bulmahn was named a team captain in 1986 and was an assistant coach for a season after his collegiate career ended.
“I had to work hard to make the team, then work even harder to get into a starting spot,” Bulmahn said. “When you have to fight for something, it becomes a passion. Don Shondell is a legend and he instills of the love of the game and love of teaching the game. I guess he rubbed off on me.”
In addition to his daughter’s presence on the Marauders, two’s of Bulmahn’s nieces, Brittany and Kayla Negley, suited up for the black-and-gold not too long ago, so he is well-versed in the Marauders’ recent history.
Following back-to-back sectional championships in 2009 and 2010 and a 23-10 record in 2011, MV fell on hard times the past two years. After an 8-25 record in 2012, the Marauders went 9-21 (0-7 Hoosier Heritage Conference) in 2013.
“There’s an opportunity to restore the tradition and pride of the program,” Bulmahn said. “It would be nice to see them all realize what they want to get to.”
Mt. Vernon does possess young talent. Bulmahn led the team in kills; freshmen Maddie Keerns and Julia Wayer were 1-2 in digs; and junior Shelby Blair was first on the squad in blocks, followed by sophomore Emily Lyday.
Sophomore Mary Grace Ertel, who battled a shoulder injury late in the season, was second on MV in kills and assists, third in blocks and fourth in digs.
Bulmahn believes the Marauders can find success if they put the necessary sweat equity in to the program.
“The sport of volleyball has grown and gotten competitive, especially in Indianapolis. The competition to get to the top and stay there and is as great as it ever was,” he said. “Players need to play offseason club volleyball. There are opportunities for them. I don’t know if they’ve taken advantage of that in the past. But, all but four players are playing club now, I believe. There’s got to be improvement in the offseason because it shortens the instruction time in the gym during the season.
“There’s a lot of support from the parent group, and that’s another attraction. There’s hard work going on behind the scenes.”