Andrew Mishler

Steve Shondell's voice announcing their names as starters has become almost as common as the playing of the Star Spangled Banner prior to a match.

Anders "The Great Dane" Nelson and J.D. "The Bulldog" Gasparovic.

In the span of three years, the two senior middle attackers have grown together to become key components for the Ball State men's volleyball team.

But following the Cardinals' last match of the season, their careers will come to a conclusion.

Both players said it will be tough to walk away from a team that has played such a significant role in their college experience.

"I love playing with these guys," Gasparovic said. "We have a great camaraderie, and they're some of my best friends. And the atmosphere playing at Ball State is amazing. The students and parents that support us give us one of the best atmospheres to play in all of the country."

Nelson said he'll miss the thrill of competition when he takes his final step off the court. "I'll miss going out there and trying to get a ‘W' every weekend," he said.

Gasparovic came into Ball State's program in 2007 as a freshman. Coach Joel Walton planned on redshirting him at the time, but injuries to other players forced Gasparovic into action on the court.

From that point on, he never looked back.

Gasparovic quickly made a name for himself in the coming years, earning the 2008 Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Freshman of the Year award as well as being named to the All-MIVA First Team in 2009 and 2010 and the All-America Second Team in 2009.

"He moved in and did admirably as a freshman," Walton said. "His blocking has always been very good, and he just kept getting better and better offensively. J.D. has been great both on the court with his performance and also as a dedicated student."

Nelson came to make his mark on the team one year later. He transferred to Ball State from Minnesota after playing two years on a club level – his first exposure to competitive volleyball - for the Golden Gophers.

Nelson stepped onto the court in a similar fashion to Gasparovic, as injuries to starters thrust him into the lineup. Since then, he has been named to the 2010 All-MIVA Second Team and the 2009 All-Tournament Team.

"We've got two guys who were taking advantage of opportunities coming their way and learning their craft in competitive environments," Walton said. "We obviously are anchored by their knowledge of the game, their skill level and their physicality at the net."

Both players have made it a priority to leave Ball State on a high note this season.

The Cardinals currently rank No. 1 in the nation in blocks per set at 3.10, with Nelson and Gasparovic accounting for a combined 2.65 of that total.

"I think a real testament to what they do [is] that [we're] ranked No. 1 in the country in blocking," Walton said. "Our middle position right now is one of our strongest groups of players on our roster."

Even when both players graduate and move on past the team, Nelson said they'll still have memories to hold onto.

"[I'll remember being] on the court- beating Lewis two seasons ago in the MIVA semifinals - and off the court - the relationships you form," Nelson said. "But I'm definitely enjoying my last month and a half here. Hopefully it'll last as long possible."