Andrew Mishler

In volleyball, the setter is comparable to a quarterback.

Both players run the offense. Both players command where the ball goes. Both players must have an immediate sense of leadership, whether it's on the court or the field.

Usually, those responsibilities go to a veteran or trusted player on the team.

For the Ball State men's volleyball team, those responsibilities fell in the lap of freshman Graham McIlvaine.

Even with limited experience as a setter, the freshman won the job in January over Dan Wichmann and Elias Aparcedo as Ball State's starting setter for the 2011 season.

While McIlvaine may be young, coach Joel Walton said believes he has a bright future at Ball State.

"He liked the challenge of learning how to set, how to run an offense and being in control of the team on the court," he said. "We were very excited about how the whole [recruiting] process worked out and that we were going to be getting a six foot six left handed setter on this year's team."

McIlvaine entered the season with the task of taking over for three-time All-Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Second Team player Ethan Pheister, who graduated in 2010. 

In only three months of play, the Chicago area native has already faced additional obstacles.

After falling to Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association opponents Lewis, Ohio State and Loyala in mid-February, Walton decided to make a change at setter.

He inserted Wichmann into the lineup at setter against Quincy on Feb. 25 and started him for the next seven matches.

McIlvaine was forced to watch from the bench while he continued to learn and hone his skills.

Walton said both players bring different skill sets to the team.

"Both Dan and Graham do some things very well," he said. "They both have strengths and weaknesses. We're going to continue to evaluate them as we go through the season and look for matches that utilize their strengths."

In the past weekend, McIlvaine recaptured his starting spot. He played extensively against Penn State last Friday and started against Saint Francis on Saturday.

Walton said the plan is to keep McIlvaine in the starting spot as the team moves into the rest of the season.

Meanwhile, McIlvaine has kept an upbeat attitude through any struggles during the season, praising his teammates and coaches for continuing to work with him.

"I've never been on a team with this much chemistry before," McIlvaine said. "It's usually just bickering back and forth, but everybody is really nice to each other here. The coaching staff has done a really good job helping me day after day."

His time as a player for the Ball State is still far from over, but until then and afterwards, McIlvaine said he will stay committed to improving.

"I have a long way to go. Even after college ends, my practice will never be over."