Since early January, before the season even started, No. 15 Ball State men’s volleyball coach Joel Walton stressed the amount of parity in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association. Now three months later with only two weeks left in the regular season Walton’s words have come to fruition.

Standing at 5-5 in the conference, Ball State is tentatively situated in fourth place in the MIVA with a realistic chance climbing as high as second or cascading as far as ninth.

The MIVA tournament, whose winner garners an automatic bid into the Final Four, is seeded based on conference standings, which makes the each game the most important for the rest of the season.

This weekend’s matches against Quincy and Lindenwood presents the first half of Ball State’s remaining challenges.

“We haven’t been talking too much about the conference standings,” Walton said. “This week we’ve been talking about Quincy and Lindenwood, and how to play the best we can against them.”

Looking at Friday on paper, playing the match against Quincy is simply a formality.

Ball State is riding an eight match-winning streak, including winning 11 straight sets, propelling it into its first national ranking in two years. On the other side of the net, Quincy is suffering through a five match-losing streak, with a loss to a Division III school. Quincy, who hasn’t won a MIVA match this season, is firmly locked in last place in the conference, and is on a 15 set skid against MIVA opponents.

Even though Quincy is last in the MIVA in nearly every offensive statistical category all of that is thrown out once both teams step onto the court. The young Hawks are still a conference opponent and are still capable of upsetting the Cardinals.

“The most dangerous thing about Quincy is the fact that they are a young team that has struggled this year, but they are as functional as they have been all year, and they are better than they were three months ago,” Walton said.

Lindenwood asserts a more difficult challenge. In Lindenwood’s first year in the MIVA the Lions are 18-9 (4-6), just a game behind Ball State in the conference standings.

The first match between Lindenwood and Ball State went to five sets, but Ball State’s personnel was drastically different than what it will put on the court Saturday.

Lindenwood’s offense has shown its potency all season, stringing together a 15 match winning streak, earning a victory over then-No. 7 Lewis and touting the MIVA’s individual leader in hitting percentage middle hitter junior Scott Siwicki.

Lindenwood’s serving is first in the MIVA in aces per set, and is Ball State’s main cause for concern. Ball State has struggled offensively when it has been forced out of system.

“We’ve been challenging our guys with a lot of out of system situations in practice,” Walton said. “We want our guys to see be able to a good block and still be able to produce.”

It isn’t a secret how important these two matches are for Ball State.

“We’re going to have a much clearer picture of where everything stands,” Walton said. “The main thing we can do is take care of our business. We’ve got to make sure we are determined and focused and ready to step onto the court and play good volleyball.”