Daniel Sipocz

The assumption is this weekend is all about clinching the top seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament for the Ball State women's volleyball team. The reality is several players could be motivated for other reasons.

Junior setter Brittany McGinnis, freshman outside hitter Whitney Heeres and freshman middle blocker Mindy Marx are returning to their home state, Michigan, as Ball State (20-4, 10-2 MAC) faces Eastern Michigan (22-7, 9-3) and Central Michigan (12-12, 6-6).

"Players always play better in front of friends, family and neighbors," coach Steve Shondell said. "We hope they continue to play as well as they have been playing."

Friday's match against Eastern Michigan is another pivotal match with significant impact on the MAC Tournament picture. Even with the pressure of being in first place, the Cardinals say they are ready.

The "one point at a time" mantra that has been repeated constantly continues to be in effect. It seems to be the rallying point of focus, motivation and stability for Ball State.

"We're focused on taking care of things on our side of the net," Heeres said. "If we do that, everything else will take care of itself, even with everyone gunning for us."

With two weeks left in the season, Ball State's magic number to clinch the top seed is three.


McGinnis said Ball State hasn't peaked yet and is getting even better.

"The bench players are playing their best volleyball of the season," she said. "The hitters are hitting the best they have all season. [Alyssa] Rio's refuse-to-lose mentality has rubbed off on everyone."

Shondell said he's seen a transformation in his team. He said the Cardinals are well aware of how much work is left to be done and how important it is to stay focused.

"When you start worrying about what other teams are doing, you stub your toes," Shondell said. "Bad things tend to happen so we're going to keep perspective on what we do and stay focused ‘one point at a time.'"

Ball State swept the first meeting with Eastern Michigan and beat Central Michigan earlier this season at Worthen Arena. A pair of wins coupled with a Western Michigan victory over Northern Illinois would clinch at least a share of the MAC West title for Ball State.

"It's really rewarding to be in this situation," McGinnis said. "The last two seasons weren't a failure for us. We've grown and evolved to be put in this situation — playing for first place."