MEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Ball State's season back on track after sweep of No. 3 Cal State Northridge
Cardinals avenge Friday sweep from Matadors; play host to No. 6 Penn State Thursday
A decisive, upset sweep of No. 3 California State University Northridge on Saturday night was all it took for Ball State University to revitalize its season.
After outside attacker Larry Wrather scored match point with a solo block, Ball State's bench cleared to celebrate on the court as the fans at Worthen Arena gave a standing ovation. It was the biggest celebration men's volleyball players had experienced this season.
Ball State went from being swept by Cal State Northridge on Friday night to returning the favor by sweeping the Matadors 30-24, 30-28, 30-22 in the annual Don Shondell Challenge.
"It was a team performance [Saturday night]," Ball State coach Joel Walton said. "It all started with our staff. Coach [Kevin] Furnish and coach [Jim] Palilonis did a great job preparing our guys for tonight. I challenged them a little bit in our video session because I feel like there were things we didn't do [Friday] night that we are capable of doing. The guys responded really well."
Saturday was Ball State's first victory against a ranked opponent in six attempts this season and the first time the Cardinals have defeated a top-five team since defeating No. 4 IPFW in February 1999.
"I've watched a lot of upsets, but I've never been a part of one," middle attacker Anders Nelson said. "We really focused the last 24 hours on the things we didn't do well [Friday] night. This is a big win for our team, definitely."
Unlike most matches this season, Ball State had a balanced offense on the night as four Cardinals had nine or more kills. Cal State Northridge could not focus in on middle attackers Anders Nelson and J.D. Gasparovic like it could Friday night as outside attackers Wrather, Lee Meyer and Eric Schulte all had positive attack percentages.
Nelson finished the night with 11 kills and a match-high eight blocks, and Meyer led the Cardinals in kills with 12.
"[Setter] Ethan [Pheister] did a nice job balancing out our attack," Walton said. "When you have offense from antenna to antenna, it makes it a lot harder for a team to figure out where to put their defenders both at the net and at the back row."
Nelson, who had half of his team's blocks, credits his teammates for the defensive performance.
"Larry blocked great [Saturday], Lee Meyer blocked great [Saturday], so when you are blocking next to those guys it's easy to rack up a whole lot of blocks," he said.
The question now for Ball State is how defeating the No. 3 team in the country will carry over for the remainder of the season. The Cardinals play host to No. 6 Penn State University on Thursday in another matchup with a top-10 team.
"I still feel that this is a team that is capable of winning a MIVA championship," Walton said. "And the guys just have to believe and keep working hard. And we can't at any point in time think we are there because we still have a lot of areas in our game we need to improve."