WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Ball State overcomes longtime nemesis Ohio
Cardinals win twice during weekend
Ohio had tormented Ball State for seven years. Junior setter Brittany McGinnis was haunted by the memory of the season-ending loss to Ohio in the quarterfinals of last year's Mid-American Conference Tournament.
"I missed the serve that ended the match," McGinnis said.
While the missed serve wasn't the final point of the quarterfinal — it lost the Cardinals the second set — the mistake did cost Ball State the chance to take a commanding lead in the match. The Bobcats swept the last two sets, sending the Cardinals home empty-handed again.
"You always have that one mistake that sticks with you and that one is mine," she said. "I wanted to get revenge so bad."
A seven-year, 11-match losing streak weighed heavily on Ball State all week. So when the ball tumbled off an Ohio defender's hand in the fifth and decisive set Friday, hanging in the air before slapping the floor just in front of another defender, everyone held their breath.
What if Ohio had found a way to extend the rally? What if Ohio overcame a seven-point deficit to steal another win?
It would have devastated Ball State, again.
It didn't matter. The ball found the floor. Ball State had won, at last.
"Ohio has been the marquee team in the MAC for the last seven or eight years," coach Steve Shondell said. "They've just dominated matches. We knew we were going to have to bring our A game from everyone to have a chance."
Time might have stood still in the moments after. A swarm of white jerseys engulfed senior libero Alyssa Rio, senior defensive specialist Hannah Sullivan and McGinnis.
Ball State no longer had to endure a painful loss to Ohio. The long-awaited celebration was on. McGinnis and Ball State were redeemed.
"This was the one team I really wanted to beat because they've been such a dominant team," Rio said. "I told the team that the upper classmen would never get a chance to play Ohio at home again. I'm glad we all fought for this."
The win didn't come easy. After winning the first set, the Cardinals had to overcome adversity. A controversial no-call interrupted the Ball State offense and gave Ohio momentum going into the break.
That could have been enough to make any team fold. Ball State didn't. As Shondell and his staff spoke with the officials on the court, Rio rallied her team.
"Alyssa told us in the break that we were going to win," freshman outside hitter Kylee Baker said. "She said it didn't matter if we won in three, four or five. We were going to win."
Ball State held Ohio at bay to finish off the win, but the weekend wasn't over. Ball State had to face Kent State on Saturday night.
Kent State provided a quick-serve, no-huddle offense. The style messes with the defense and caused Ball State to drop the second set.
"In 35 years of coaching, I've never seen a quick-set-, no-huddle-style offense," Shondell said. "It totally blindsided me. I'm glad they did it in the second set and gave us the opportunity to talk it over before the third set."
Ball State regrouped and responded. The Cardinals overwhelmed the Golden Flashes en route to a 25-14, 14-25, 25-15, 25-20 win.
The weekend keeps Ball State in second place in the MAC West, but the focus wasn't on the standings.
"It's like living a dream," Baker said. "I'm grateful and thankful to be a part of an accomplishment like this."