No. 9 Ball State’s semifinal match with No. 12 Loyola will culminate by ending a streak and extending another one. 

On paper, the parity between the conference foes is ostensible. Ball State’s coach Joel Walton won the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association’s Coach of the Year, and the Cardinals touted four first team all-MIVA players. Loyola’s Joseph Smalzer won MIVA Player of the Year, and the Ramblers had two players join the all-MIVA first team.

Both are in the top in several statistical categories in the MIVA, both have been nationally ranked for weeks, both swept through their first round matchups and both are playing for their seasons.   

More than likely a loss ends either team’s year, with the at-large bid for the last spot in the Final Four seemingly reserved for a West Coast team (IPFW in 1994 is the only non-West Coast team in 43 years to receive an at-large bid). 

To see who moves on to the conference finals, two streak impressive streaks will be put to the test. No. 3 seed Ball State is riding a 13-match winning streak, its longest since 1982, and second seeded Loyola has not dropped a match against Ball State at home since 1999. 

Walton said a lot of Loyola’s success at home was because of their facility’s low hang ceiling that throws off the dimensions of the court.

“All of those years we were playing in a facility that was almost unfair,” Walton said. 

But over the past two years, in the new Gentile Arena, Ball State’s performances have yet to garner a win.

Ball State’s last loss came two months ago — at Loyola. The Cardinals were swept, eschewing a major lineup change that has yet to trail in sets.

Ball State defeated Loyola 11 days ago 3-1, ending Loyola’s own winning streak of nine matches. Replicating a match like that won’t be an easy feat, especially with only three days to prepare.

“There’s just not a lot of time,” Walton said. “We’re looking at how they played us and Quincy [Loyola’s first round opponent], and combining that information to polish and tweak our game plan from last time.”

The obvious statistic that influenced the different outcomes is hitting percentage. Loyola is the No. 1 team in the MIVA in hitting percentage. Juxtaposing that is Ball State, the No. 1 team in opponent’s hitting percentage.

In Loyola’s win, the Ramblers hit .356, in its loss .193. It sounds simple, but containing Loyola’s offense is a confounding matter that starts with its serve.

“When we lost to [Loyola] our passing wasn’t very good,” Walton said. “They bring a lot of pressure with their serve, and we have to be ready to handle it and give Graham [McIlvaine] a chance to run our offense from the best possible position.”

Walton foresees the clash playing out how it is portrayed on paper, but thinks Ball State’s streaks and season will continue.

“Do I think it’s going to be easy? No, it’s going to be a battle,” Walton said. “But I think we’ve proved that we can play good volleyball anywhere, and when we do that I think we can beat anybody.”