The newest American Volleyball Coaches Association top-15 poll has a fresh face. At 14-5, Ball State was ranked No. 15 for its first national ranking in more than two years.

Wins over No. 16 IPFW and then-No. 8 Ohio State this past weekend propelled Ball State to its national recognition. Junior setter Graham McIlvaine was adamant after the win against Ohio State that the Cardinals deserved their first ranking since Feb. 11, 2011.

“We absolutely deserve to be ranked,” McIlvaine said.

The 2013 season has been a roller coaster for Ball State. The team opened up its campaign on a tear, starting 8-0, and standing as the only undefeated team in Division I-II volleyball. But once the Cardinals enter the heart of their Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association schedule, the first loss came, then another.

The skid lasted for five games, spanning over a month. All of a sudden the Cardinals were 8-5 and 3-5 in the MIVA, placing them in mediocrity. 

Then in effort to generate more offense, senior outside hitter Jamion Hartley was inserted into the lineup.

“With this group we have more options offensively, and I think we’re more potent,” coach Joel Walton said.

Since the lineup change the Cardinals have hit .318, while they were only hitting .224 before it. The offensive explosion has led to yet another string of wins for the Cardinals, with the mark at six straight now.

“We’re starting to see this group get confidence, and the leadership, experience and confidence of the guys are letting us outwork or out-physical teams at times,” Walton said. “Everybody on the team has a role, and right now everyone is fulfilling it.”

Within those six victories, two have come against nationally ranked teams (then-No. 10 Penn State and then-No.8 Ohio State). Ball State has not had two wins against ranked opponents since 2010.

The team’s success has been illuminated by individual accolades. Hartley was awarded MIVA Offensive Player of the Week and senior middle hitter Matt Leske was awarded MIVA Defensive Player of the Week for the second time during this streak.

Despite the midseason accomplishments Ball State players are still unsatisfied. 

“This team can absolutely make a Final Four run,” McIlvaine said. “The confidence level is unbelievable.”

Walton is stressing that the MIVA tournament, let alone the Final Four, is still a long way away.

“The danger in this is that we think we’re there,” Walton said. “We’ve got work to do.”

Ball State still has six matches left, including two against the other two ranked MIVA teams. No. 9 Lewis and No. 14 Loyola-Chicago will come to Worthen Arena for the final two regular season matches of the year. But right now all Ball State players are thinking is “bring them on.”

“We know if we play hard we’re going to win,” Hartley said.