Daniel Sipocz

Standing at 5 foot 8 inch redshirt freshman libero Tommy Rouse isn't going to tower over anyone.

Undersized for just about every sport, Rouse had to earn playing time everywhere he's been, even at Ball State. He's always succeeded too.

"Tommy had been coming to our volleyball camp for years so we were familiar with him," Ball State men's volleyball coach Joel Walton said. "We were resistant. We weren't sure at his height he'd be able to cover enough court to be a valuable player on our roster."

Walton brought Rouse back for one last camp. Rouse's play in his final chance to earn a roster spot made the decision easy for Walton.

"Tommy came into camp and was money," Walton said. "Everything he passed was on target all week long. We were like, ‘we'd have to be stupid not to bring him in.'"

Even with dazzling Walton, Rouse didn't get to play last season. Ball State already had a talented and experienced libero: Billy Ebel.

Rouse studied Ebel. Rouse worked hard. He waited his turn.

"Sitting out made me fall in love with the game all over again," he said. "I knew Billy was such a great player my chances of playing might not be the best, so I redshirted.

"I'm trying to imitate him a little bit with some of his techniques he used, but still bringing my intensity to the game."

Walton knew Rouse would have to be ready for this season. Ebel helped mentor him, but the rest was up to Rouse.

"There's always a little bit of [a] question when a guy hasn't competed before," Walton said. "We saw some great things in practice, but some players only play well in practice or in games. You want to find a kid who does both and so far Tommy has done a really good job in both."

Despite no on-court experience at the collegiate level, Rouse has been the anchor to the Cardinals defense in 2011. He is the only player to see action in all 28 sets. Rouse also leads the team with 82 digs, 42 more than Graham Mcilvaine who is second with 40.

Rouse also won a Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Defensive Player of the Week Award the first week in February.

"I go onto the court having the attitude that no ball should fall," he said. "I put time in all of last year in practice and the fall. The fact that I'm playing well is awesome, but it starts in practice."

The time and hard work Rouse put in has made the transition from Ebel to Rouse in the backcourt a smooth one for Ball State. That's just the way Walton wants to keep it.

"The best liberos we've had, I'm able to forget about," he said. "Balls go to their area of the court, they go up to our setter and I'm able to focus on other things. Usually if I'm noticing the play of a libero, it's not good.

"That's what I really love. He's on the court taking care of business and I've got little to worry about."