Andrew Mishler

In sports, an extended period of rest can be positive or negative, depending on the perspective. Either a team has extra time to prepare itself, or it has extra time to become rusty.

The Ball State men's volleyball team has fallen into that position this weekend.

Going on the road to face George Mason tonight and Sacred Heart on Saturday will be the Cardinals' first in-game action since its loss to Penn State on Jan. 15.

But 13 days of rest and a disappointing performance in the Outrigger Invitational two weeks ago hasn't deterred Ball State's focus.

"We just need to work as hard as we always do," senior J.D. Gasparovic said. "There were a lot of areas we were flat in (against Penn State), and I know I struggled personally. But I think we're ready to come out and play well."

With the time off, the Cardinals have worked extensively at improving some of their weaknesses. Coach Joel Walton singled out the team's offense, primarily its serving, as being an issue two weeks ago.

His stance hasn't changed since then.

"We've been working pretty hard on offense," Walton said. We tried to work some on serving and I'm not really pleased with our progress. We've got more improving to do in that area."

Walton said he has gone over one set in particular to help jump-start the offense in preparation for the match against George Mason.

"It's a quick ball to our middle (attacker), about six or seven feet away from our setter," Walton said. "The good news is in working on that, our defense has had to play against it, and it's a set that one of George Mason's attackers hits very well. So it fits into our game plan for Friday night."

The George Mason attacker Walton mentioned is 6-foot-5 sophomore Mark Jones. Jones averages 4.85 kills per set, almost a full two kills more than sophomore Larry Wrather, who leads Ball State with a 3.10 kill average.

"(Jones) had good numbers in almost every match that he's played and they're setting him a lot of balls," Walton said. "He's a former setter, and he played for the same volleyball club that Graham Mcllvaine came from."

In addition to facing the challenges that both George Mason and Sacred Heart present, Ball State will also have to face the challenges of another road trip.

After traveling to Washington D.C. to face George Mason, Ball State will head to Connecticut to take on Sacred Heart. 

But Walton said his team has shown him that it is prepared to face any obstacle it comes across.

"I think this weekend is going to be a challenge for our guys because we are going to be on two fairly long bus rides," Walton said. "You're also playing in front of crowds that at times can be pretty active and trying to distract your guys from working to accomplish each night. Those are always the challenges of travel. And great teams will overcome those challenges."