WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: MAC West leaders visit Ball State for big weekend
Cardinals have a chance to move into first place
Women's volleyball coach Steve Shondell says the season isn't on the line this weekend. He may be right, but positioning for the Mid-American Conference Tournament is.
Ball State (18-4, 8-2 MAC) is in second place in the MAC West, a game behind Northern Illinois and tied with Western Michigan. Both teams happen to be the Cardinals' opponents this weekend.
"We're going to have to come in and want it Friday and Saturday," freshman outside hitter Kylee Baker said. "Neither team is going to lie down for us. No one is going to give up a shot at a title."
Eastern Michigan is also tied for second in the division.
In order for Ball State to claim control in the MAC West and have a chance at the division title, it must beat Western Michigan. The Cardinals have not accomplished this since 2006, and they are on a seven-game losing streak against the Broncos.
"Western Michigan has always been the team that we don't play well against for some reason," senior libero Alyssa Rio said. "They're just a different type of team, but we know where the ball is going. The ball is going to Jessica Brown in the middle. We have to find a way to stop her."
While stopping or slowing Brown, a middle blocker, may be necessary for success Friday night, it is not the only key for Ball State this weekend.
The Cardinals will need the front line to step up and block effectively. They demonstrated the ability by out-blocking Bowling Green 9-2 on Saturday.
"We've got two big challenges this week and it's going to require the girls to be sharp," Shondell said. "I expect them to be sharp. We're cutting back on practice hours the rest of the season to stay fresh. Hopefully that will keep us sharp."
With so much riding on the outcome, pressure could be mounting. Rio, Kelsey Brandl and Baker all said they didn't feel any extra stress beyond what the team puts on itself.
In fact, Ball State could be in the right place mentally. Along with the team motto of taking the season one point at a time, each player has dedicated the remainder of the season to the seniors.
"The seniors only have three weeks left in their season and collegiate career," Brandl said. "Sending them off with wins, a MAC championship and NCAA Tournament experience is driving us all."