Daniel Sipocz

FORT WAYNE — First-year coach Steve Shondell challenged his team after Saturday's disappointing loss to Wright State. He challenged the Cardinals to play with fire, passion and not allow their confidence to be shaken.

The passion, fire and sense of urgency was there, but the consistent level of play that led Ball State to a 7-0 record was not. Shondell was so frustrated, he replaced junior setter Brittany McGinnis with freshman Jacqui Siedel, who sparked the offense enough to defeat IPFW in a five-set (25-21, 23-25, 25-20, 22-25, 15-12) thriller Tuesday.

"I know this was going to be a tough battle," Shondell said. "I told the girls in the locker room before the match that we had to want this more than IPFW. They're a very good team and winning in the fifth set is very important to developing a mental edge so we can win five-set matches."

Seidel made her appearance in relief of McGinnis midway through the third set as both teams struggled offensively. Ball State won the third set with a .071 hitting percentage.

The defensive struggle took its toll as both teams continued a frantic pace with long rallies. In all, Ball State and IPFW combined for more than 200 digs. Freshman defensive specialist Catie Fredrich paced Ball State with 27 digs, while senior libero Alyssa Rio had 26 digs. Ball State finished with 101 digs and IPFW had 108.

"We love to play hard and compete and everyone played well tonight," junior middle blocker Kelsey Brandl said. "It was annoying that we couldn't put the ball away. I ripped a couple down the right side that didn't stay down and I was like, what the heck?"

Ball State had to rally in the fourth set, trailing by four on multiple occasions before the wheels fell off. A near-heroic rally almost saved the Cardinals from going to the decisive fifth set, but a close call ended the rally short at 25-22.

A tight and intense final set was decided on a Charde Phillips kill after a back-and-forth battle.

Ball State improves to 8-1 with help from Siedel off the bench and 20 kills from Brandl. Freshman outside hitter Kylee Baker finished with 18.

"I give Jacqui tremendous credit for what she did. She turned the match around for us," Shondell said. "It's just like changing quarterbacks in a football game. You just have to look for a different rhythm. Jacqui has waited for her opportunity and [Tuesday] we had to make a move."