Andrew Mishler

Any Ball State vs. Lewis match has proven to be intense and hard fought for the past few years.

With everything that is riding on today's match between the two teams, the intensity might go up another notch.

Ball State will take on 12th ranked Lewis today at 7:30 in Worthen Arena before taking to the road to play King College on Saturday and Lees McRae on Sunday.

Everything will be on the line in the match against Lewis, as the winner will most likely go on to secure the third seed in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Tournament.

Earning the third seed in the tournament, and ultimately avoiding MIVA powerhouse Ohio State in the first round, is crucial for the Cardinals.

"Our primary goal this week is to come out with a win against Lewis, even if it means we take a loss to one of those other teams," coach Joel Walton said. To lose to [Lewis, Ohio State and Loyola] this year would probably put us in a place that we haven't been in our conference in a long, long time."

In the last five matches between the Cardinals and Flyers, each match has gone to at least five games. Ball State has gone 2-3 in those matches, including a thrilling comeback victory in the 2009 MIVA semifinals.

Most recently, Lewis (15-7, 3-3 MIVA) narrowly defeated Ball State 3-2 on February 11. Since then, Lewis has had a brutal schedule against five nationally ranked teams, including Brigham Young, Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara, and MIVA opponents Ohio State and Loyola.

The battle tested Flyers will bring a wealth of experience into Worthen Arena today. Walton said the Cardinals must be fully prepared in order to have a chance at a victory.

"[Lewis is] really a team that has strong players at each position and they force you to play well and try to take some things away from them, primarily with your serves," Walton said. "If they're passing well and their offense is allowed to use all options, they're a very difficult team to stop."

For now, Ball State considers itself battle tested as well. Libero Tommy Rouse said the ups and downs the Cardinals have faced over the season have been important to their success.

"We've been in a bunch of different scenarios, like being down two [games] and coming back," Rouse said. "We've played in a lot of different environments and gotten a lot of experience and confidence."

The one area where Ball State may have an advantage over Lewis is at middle attacker. The Cardinals currently lead the nation with 3.09 blocks per game, thanks in large part to seniors J.D. Gasparovic and Anders Nelson.

But while Ball State may thrive in the middle of the net, Walton said he's not discouting the skill of Lewis' middle attackers Matt Gallik and Aaron Flick.

"Even though I think our middles are better than Lewis' middles, both Galik and Flick at times we've seen on video this year do extremely well against Lewis' opponents," he said.

Rouse said Ball State might have its best shot at a win if it can get off to a faster start. The team has struggled recently at producing consistent offense and defense immediately after the first whistle.

"Best case scenario would be if we just started playing well right off-the-bat," he said. "It usually takes us a while to get into our groove. We need to play as the match begins the way we know how to play."