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Chalfont’s Christian Rupert in a familiar place at Final Four

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This spring, in Muncie, Indiana, the Cardinal Number was one.

One team – Ball State – won its first regular season volleyball conference title since 1997 and claimed its first conference tournament championship since 2002.

The Cardinals (23-4) won all nine of their sets in the April Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) tournament. Their 3-0 championship win over Purdue Fort Wayne (28-26, 25-20, 25-16) helped to clinch a bid to the NCAA Final Four.

“I love the technical side of coaching. I love the biomechanics side. I love how there is a more efficient way of doing things if you can make subtle changes and I love when the light goes on and something gets easier for the player,” Ball State assistant coach Christian Rupert recently shared. “But I really do enjoy those relationships. Seeing the senior class be able to have so much success and what they were able to accomplish was the best part of the season for me.

“If you can be trying to progress people,” Rupert continued, “that is one of the most rewarding parts of the profession.”

The Cardinals fell in five sets to eventual champion Hawaii in the national semifinals, a team that Ball State knocked off twice in the regular season. The building blocks are in place for first-year head coach Donan Cruz and his staff to make the Cardinals a power for years to come.

“Everyone trusted each other. Everyone was playing for each other,” Rupert noted. “They were doing a lot of great things in the past but having some hard times getting over humps. Maybe with the combination of the seniors getting older and some different voices, we were able to bust past that ceiling.”

Chalfont’s Rupert is no stranger to final fours. Rupert led CB West to a 2014 District One title and PIAA Final Four appearance. As a middle blocker for BYU, Rupert helped the Cougars reach two national title games and a third Final Four appearance. While the BYU and Ball State teams had different styles, Rupert saw the same work ethic and high standards in both programs.

Rupert helped to coached Cardinal setter Quinn Isaacson and opposite hitter Angelos Mandilaris, both of whom won national awards for being best at their position. From 2018 to 2020, Isaacson was Ball State teammates with Pennridge star Ben Chinnici. Rupert had many high school battles with Chinnici and his older brother Ryan.

“Pennridge was always the team to beat. For me, that was the rivalry game,” Rupert recalled. “East was a huge rival and I always looked forward to them but Pennridge always put out a good team.”

Rupert was a two-time all-state volleyball player at West. “The biggest memory was the 2014 District One championship,” Rupert reflected. “We played Neshaminy and had a crazy, thrilling five set match. It was the first time West won the district title in a looooong time. It was a culmination. It took four years to get to that point. We built every single year to do that and then we went onto states and did some cool things. It was an awesome experience.”

Rupert spent a year playing professionally in Croatia after college. He treasured the experience but suffered a bad ankle injury late in the season. “It took me a while to recover and at that point, the next season had already started,” Rupert stated. “I could tell it was a good time to stop playing.”

In September 2019, Rupert landed a volunteer assistant job at Princeton. His relationship with Princeton head coach Sam Shweisky dated to eighth grade- “when I wasn’t very good,” Rupert pointed out.

“I really admired the professionalism with which he and his parents conducted the recruiting process,” remembered Shweisky, who stayed in touch with the family.

Rupert got a job as a counselor with the Gold Medal Squared volleyball clinics – founded by BYU Hall of Fame coach Carl McGown – after his collegiate freshman summer. “You got to see spots of America that you wouldn’t normally see – like a small city in Montana,” Rupert said. “I loved the interactions. The teaching and mentoring really appealed to me.” His experience at Gold Medal gave Rupert the coaching bug.

“I have to give a lot of credit to the BYU and Gold Medal Squared methodology. Growing up in that system and coaching camps, he came in with a very simple language,” Shweisky stated. “It’s hard to translate how you do something, and then you have to explain it in a way that kids get it.

“Middle blocking was his expertise in college, so that’s where we leaned on him here,” Shweisky continued, “but we had conversations about attacking, setting, passing. He has a full scope and understanding of the game.”

Princeton “was an opportunity to work with a great staff, and it was the closest Division I college to my house,” Rupert pointed out. “We had a great couple of months. I was enjoying my coaching and getting more and more responsibility from Sam. They were trusting me and I was trusting myself.”

Things looked up. Princeton beat perennial power UCLA for the first time in Tiger history on Jan. 30. The Tigers had won four of five conference matches when COVID hit.

“Trying to enter collegiate coaching during COVID when every single collegiate program was shut down was a pretty hard nut to crack,” Rupert chuckled.

“COVID was such a bizarre time for all of us,” Shweisky stressed. “Yet he kept finding ways to Zoom with the guys, add value and hold middle blocker sessions. He struck me as a guy in this for all of the right reasons: he really cared about the student-athletes from starter to bottom of the bench.

“He was super upbeat,” Shweisky continued. “The job is hard and by having those genuine positive qualities around helping young people succeed, you could see he was going to do well.”

Shweisky introduced Rupert to Cruz, who rounded out his staff by hiring Rupert last August. All three remain close. “When Princeton won their conference tournament this year, that was a really, really cool thing for me,” Rupert admitted. “I still love that program, the guys on the team and the coaches.”

“We’re all part of this fraternity of men’s volleyball together. I was super excited to watch him do well at Ball State,” Shweisky echoed. “I would not be surprised to see him potentially coaching his own program someday. I think his future is very bright.”


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