Munciana mainstays Lyon, Lingenfelter honored with 2024 Heart of Sport Award

March 1, 2024

The TC NIT Heart of Sport Award in volleyball is presented by Triple Crown Sports in honor of coaches and program directors who go the extra mile in developing players, building character and supporting the priorities of hard work and compassion while demonstrating the highest level of integrity to the sport, the players, the families and competitors.

In 2024, we break out the spotlight and shine it on two people who have carefully woven on-court success and a hunger for achievement with the importance of teaching skills and a mindset that elevates student-athletes for the road ahead – a salute to Wes Lyon and Mike Lingenfelter, co-directors of Munciana.

Even at its highest level of play, there are predictable elements in volleyball, something you can see in how players are positioned and prepared to deal with the most likely outcome of a given serve, set or swing.

But the ball still takes crazy bounces, bodies respond in different speeds and directions, and people would probably go broke pretty quickly wagering on how a given point might turn out in the end.

That’s a useful way to look at the career arcs of Wes Lyon and Mike Lingenfelter, who are decades deep in their coaching and administrative runs at Munciana – respected by the breadth and depth of the club and college powers in the sport, something that dates back to the whimsy and hard-charging time as collegiate players at Ball State University. From that, to agreeing to coach when females in athletics were still seen as a curiosity, to adding dignity and determination as the game evolved, to today’s undeniable sense that volleyball belongs on the brightest stages – that would have been hard to predict.

And no one is more amazed or grateful than Lyon and Lingenfelter as they reflected on where they started and where they stand today.

Q: Munciana is known as the first volleyball club, born in 1974, and one that boasts a muscular history of success on a national scale. What are the core beliefs there that fuel these accomplishments?

Wes Lyon: The biggest thing with our club and my personal take, it’s our consistency and ability to stay relevant in the game. We don’t jump on bandwagon trends. The focus here is always on ball control, and we’re known for that. In that pro league match the other night, on both Las Vegas and Omaha teams, the liberos were Munciana kids. We train the basics. At 14’s, what I love the most is they are learners and they have a lot of dreams, things they are searching for. There’s a joy in what they are doing. I feel like they should be able to start on a high school varsity team when they leave my group, which is right at eighth grade.

Mike Lingenfelter: Wes and I sit about 15 feet from one another on a daily basis, for years now, and our answers are almost duplicates even if we don’t have these exact conversations often. When my kids leave, they are going to college, and that’s a different paradigm. One thing I dive into, I like teaching life on and off the court. One thing I’ve done is be ready to discuss elements that impact life off court. On the court, I’m about fundamentals and feel more like a teacher than say a coach. We pass it, serve it, send it. Off the court, one thing I want my kids to understand is how to do hard things. For them to understand the inherent value of doing hard things. If you work really hard on something you love, that’s passion, and I want them to understand the value of passion and that it unlocks most doors.

Q: Obsessing over wins and losses is probably not healthy over the long haul. How have you kept the task of coaching fresh over the years?

Wes: The biggest thing, when we started, it was about teaching. We grew up in that environment at the beginning, all played for the men’s team at Ball State and literally went into teaching. That’s the background. And we love to train athletes, see how much we can improve year to year. One thing, we weren’t afraid to coach each other’s high school teams, so in Muncie and Delaware County, every team had a Munciana coach … we train together in club, try to beat each other’s brains out in high school, and then go out for a beer after. By doing that, we created a higher level of volleyball, as we were more concerned about the players and athletes.

Mike: To focus on the education part of this is probably fair. I look at what we do, it’s no different than say, when Harvard opened they had goals, and 200 years later they are still crankin’ and bankin’. Educational systems can have sustained excellence more than sports institutions. There’s ebb and flow in sports, but in high-level education, you wouldn’t see dips as much. We were competitive, and thrilled with results, but never meandered too far from the process, which has been the same since 1974 … educational and teacher-orientated, without dwelling on results. We’ve demanded there be a process in teaching, so I don’t see the drop off.

Q: Put bluntly, there’s an argument to be made that parents complicate the waters of coaching more than they did decades ago, and it’s said young student-athletes have changed a great deal as well. What’s your take on that?

Wes: Club volleyball hasn’t changed dramatically, in some respects. Are there problems with parents along the way? Yeah. The biggest impact, there are so many kids playing and scholarships are a huge deal, and NIL is a whole new thread. We understand our process, and that method won’t change. Am I treating kids differently than 25 years ago? Kids say I’ve softened, but I guess I don’t know what that means. I have the same mindset developing our practices; I tend to build on my practices, and they’ll look quite the same as 30 years ago. Our problems with parents, with the younger teams, is they don’t quite understand everything. And with the older teams, they have too many expectations. We all know what level an athlete can play when she goes to college, and we don’t shy away from any of this if we have problems.

Mike: Society has changed … it feels like we have to explain ourselves more than we ever had to before, to communicate more than ever before. Whether that communication is received well or not, that depends. The fact is, we still have the same curriculum and delivery, and the difference is we have to stop from time to time and explain exactly what we’re doing. That’s not always a bad thing, to have to reflect and defend what you stand for or believe in. Sometimes, we get a bit taken aback by it. You have to give the “why” a lot more, and it’s not bad, even if it can be cumbersome.

Q: You both have spent plenty of hours in dank, dark, quiet high school gyms, or at club events where facilities needed a lot of help and fans were hard to find. What goes through your mind when you see the explosive growth of volleyball today?

Wes: In the volleyball world, we’ve done it organically, not ridden the coattails of other sports along the way. Our crowds, like 92,000-plus watching a match in Nebraska, and all the sellouts in (arenas) across the country … we just want to keep getting better. I find myself watching volleyball almost every weekend. It’s a made-for-viewers market that’s ready to explode. To go back to the early days, there’s still the same drive for kids. There’s a history where it was just as important to train and practice to win a state championship as it was to go to college. It’s shifted a bit, but it’s a reason our kids play. College is a bigger deal, pro volleyball is a carrot out there. We’ve had coaches move from club to college and had great success, and they took that mindset out with them. We can see the way we do things at Munciana and seen it done at a high level. We’ve been on a journey, liked the idea of taking the kids with us, and we helped a lot of kids grow as players … many people of course, not just Mike and I.

Mike: A great many people are just enthralled by volleyball, see it as an overnight success, and people don’t see the true pioneers, who from the mid-1970’s to now who have never put down the torch. It’s been a labor of love to get to this point. It’s been a remarkable couple of years here lately. One thing I’ve tried to include at this point of my career is that I’ve got to get better at absorbing moments. I lead a distracted life, I’m chasing the next win and the next title, and I tell myself I have to slow down and at least absorb what’s around me. And this year, I think about how I’m part of something that will go down in history. A small part, but it will be reflected upon for all time as the catalyst time, or explosion time, for the sport. It’s been an honor and a privilege, and I just have to stop and inhale some of what’s going on. I don’t think back to any of that as dark times; we’ve been so caught up trying to master it and get further along. To see what’s evolved, is remarkable.

Q: Lastly, do you have any go-to memories or reflections you turn to when you think about your life as a coach and administrator?

Wes: The wins were never the priority; it was the idea of getting better. I’ve had so many kids go on to great things inside and outside volleyball, and I appreciate what they’ve done for the sport and themselves. That what gives me the most joy on this whole ride, kids getting better, sometimes against the odds and sometimes a non-stop great journey. There’s not just one moment out there.

Mike: Mine is pretty easy. It started as desperately looking for a way to make a little spending money as a coach, and in college that’s beer money, and in 1983 Wes agreed to let me be an assistant coach in a 12-under team. That was my introduction to coaching, and really hadn’t thought about it as potential career. I was the guy to let the kids know who were cut, I was the one who had to tell them… quite the entry into coaching. I just never looked back. Wes had the trust in me for that first year, and from that point on my life has been a whirlwind of volleyball.

Here’s the volleyball coaching timeline for Wes Lyon and Mike Lingenfelter, who became co-directors at Munciana in 2007. Both of them played collegiately at Ball State University.

Wes Lyon:

Begins coaching with Munciana in 1983

2001: Lyons wins 18 Open USAV national title

2004: After 20-year run with 18’s, moves to 14’s and wins USAV national title

2015: 14’s win AAU Open championship

2021: 14’s win AAU Open championship High school: coached Muncie Central to Indiana Class 4A state titles in 2004 and 2009

Inducted into the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Hall of Fame

Mike Lingenfelter:

Begins coaching with Munciana in 1983; left, then returned in 1999

2009: Directs 18’s to AAU Open and JVA national titles

2011: 18’s win AAU Open championship

2017: 18’s win AAU Open championship

2021: 18’s win AAU Open championship; Lingenfelter named AVCA club coach of the year

2022: 18’s win AAU Open championship2

023: 18’s win AAU Open championship

High school: coached Wapahani to Indiana Class 2A state titles in 2002, 2011, 2012

College: Head coach for five seasons at Cincinnati and two seasons at Memphis