MEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Ball State's Nelson plays 'out of his mind' in upset victory
Nelson notches eight blocks in sweep of No. 3 Cal State Northridge
After watching the final Cal State University Northridge kill attempt get blocked, Anders Nelson immediately dropped to his knees on the Worthen Arena court and began to scream.
The feeling of knocking off a top-five team was something the Ball State University middle attacker had never experienced in his career. It was even more meaningful to Nelson, though, because he out-played an All-American in the process of securing one of the biggest upsets in Ball State's 46-year program history.
Nelson had a match-high eight blocks as unranked Ball State swept No. 3 Cal State Northridge 30-24, 30-28, 30-22 on Saturday, one day after losing to the Matadors in the opening match of the Don Shondell Challenge.
"This is awesome," Nelson said. "I said [Friday] night after they beat us, and I believed it then, that we can play with them. We did that."
The victory against Cal State Northridge was the first time in more than 10 years that Ball State (13-8, 4-4 Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association) has defeated a top-five ranked team. It is Ball State's fourth win against a ranked team from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation since the start of the rally scoring era.
Nelson said this was the biggest upset he had ever been a part of in any sport.
In addition to the season high in blocks, Nelson had a match-high .529 attack percentage and was second on the team with 11 kills.
"He was out of his mind," coach Joel Walton said.
Cal State Northridge's All-American middle attacker Jacek Ratajczak was held to six kills and a .118 attack percentage — his second lowest attack percentage in a match this season. The six kills was tied for the second fewest number of kills for Ratajczak this season.
Matador middle attacker Kevin McKniff had seven kills after finishing the victory on Friday with a match-high 13 kills.
Along with Nelson, middle attacker J.D. Gasparovic had six blocks in the victory, including three blocks in the final game.
"It feels good that we outplayed them," Nelson said. "For us we had something to prove."
This is Nelson's second season at the Division I level after transferring from the University of Minnesota, where he played club volleyball, before the 2009 season. Having never played competitive volleyball until arriving at Minnesota, Walton said Nelson still remains somewhat unknown throughout the men's volleyball community.
After this weekend's performance, Walton said more people should take notice of Nelson.
"I hope so," Walton said. "I hope the entire state of Wisconsin is celebrating, chanting his name and [being] thrilled with Anders."
Nelson and Gasparovic were successful at preventing Ratajczak and McKniff from being more productive, Walton said, because of a blocking scheme that took away kill attempts the Matadors' middle attackers were comfortable hitting. Walton said the Matadors inability to pass as well as the Cardinals kept the team out of an offensive rhythm the entire match.
"I challenged our guys in the video session before the match," Walton said. "There were things we didn't do [Friday], and I really challenged our guys to block and attack Cal State better."
The coach said Nelson and Gasparovic's performance Saturday showed they are two of the elite middle attackers in the NCAA.
"Anders and J.D. are two middles capable of rivaling any middles in the nation," Walton said.
This victory comes about three weeks before the start of the MIVA Tournament. Ball State will play No. 6 Penn State University on Thursday before returning to conference play this weekend.
Walton said if the Cardinals continue to play at the level it played Saturday, it could lead to his team winning its first MIVA title in eight years.
"These are the types of feelings we want to have in April and in the conference tournament," he said.