MEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Cal State Northridge's McKniff too much for Ball State
7-foot-2 Ratajczak, McKniff prove their worth against Ball State
After spending a week preparing, coach Joel Walton schemed everything right to prevent Cal State Northridge's All-American middle attacker Jacek Ratajczak from having a big night.
The 12th-year head coach and the Ball State University men's volleyball team, though, just couldn't stop the other starting middle attacker Kevin McKniff.
McKniff had a match-high 13 kills and .632 attack percentage as No. 3 Cal State Northridge swept Ball State 30-22, 30-24, 30-28 in the Don Shondell Challenge on Friday at Worthen Arena.
"McKniff is a stud," Walton said. "He hits a good ball and did some good things [Friday]."
Throughout this week in practice, Walton said he and his coaching staff spent a lot of time trying to figure out how best to stop the McKniff and the 7-foot-2 Ratajczak — the tallest player Ball State will play this season.
Ratajczak entered this non-conference match with the nation's fourth best attack percentage at .481. The senior finished though with eight kills and a .176 attack percentage — his second lowest attack percentage this season.
Walton said the team did not underestimate McKniff, who has the third highest attack percentage in the nation, when scouting the Matadors. The coach also said because of McKniff's performance it negated Ball State's job at stopping Ratajczak.
"When you have one guy hit more than .600 I don't think you can consider that a success at stopping their middle attackers," Walton said.
Despite not being in the front row at the same time as Ratajczak, McKniff said he felt he had more unblocked kill attempts because of the amount of pressure Ball State was putting on Ratajczak. In addition, Cal-State Northridge coach Jeff Campbell said he was glad to see how McKniff performed with Ratajczak not being as offensively successful.
"With us going to our middles is something we are committed to," Campbell said. "Kevin, he's a fifth-year senior, and he's having a real nice final year."
This was the first match for Cal State Northridge (16-6, 11-6 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) since sweeping No. 12 Loyola University nearly two weeks ago. McKniff said the team offense was a little out of synch at times Friday because of the time off between matches.
The Matadors out-hit the Cardinals .264 to .157 but were .032 percentage points below their season average attack percentage.
"We had some let downs throughout the match," McKniff said. "We were able to be strong and play well when it matter late in the matches."
In the loss, Ball State (12-8, 4-4 Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association) starting middle attackers J.D. Gasparovic and Anders Nelson each had six kills. The two also combined for seven blocks — including Gasparovic, a 2009 Second Team All-American, who had a team-high four blocks.
Despite Ratajczak having two more blocks than Gasparovic, Campbell said he was impressed with the Ball State middle attacker's defensive abilities.
"J.D. was good," he said. "He was causing Jacek problems all night long."
This was the first of two matches between Ball State and Cal State Northridge in the annual Don Shondell Challenge. The two teams will play again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Worthen Arena.
With a limited time between matches, Walton said he does not plan to make any major changes to the team's game plan entering tonight's match. The coach said his team is going to need to focus on getting more hands in front of McKniff for the second match.
Nelson also said he is looking forward to another chance for Gasparovic and him to go head-to-head against Ratajczak and McKniff.
"It's always fun when you get to play against the best," Nelson said. "We saw on video that they both are great players. [McKniff] is a great player, and he showed that."