MEN'S VOLLEYBALL: No. 15 Ball State downs No. 9 Lewis, sending a message to the MIVA
In the midst of its now 11 match-winning streak, Ball State has played the underdog role twice to opponents ranked higher in the national standings. But from the start of the match against No. 9 Lewis, Ball State brought an onslaught of torpedoing attacks and impermeable defense.
Coming into the match Lewis had a chance to lock up the top seed in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association’s tournament, and clinch the regular season crown. But after a 3-1 (25-18, 24-26, 25-17, 25-15) victory, Ball State now looks like more than a dark horse with one more match before the MIVA tournament.
“This is a shout out to the nation that we are one of the best teams in conference, if not one of the best teams in the Midwest, East Coast and even the West Coast,” junior setter Graham McIlvaine said. “If we play like this no team can beat us.
“I think we proved we’re the team to beat by beating the No. 1 seed,” McIlvaine said.
In the first set the teams exchanged blows in a sideout battle, with neither team gaining more than a two-point advantage by the media timeout. After a few sideouts Lewis cashed in on a few opportunities and brought the game to 16-15.
The ensuing rally featured senior libero Tommy Rouse log one of his match-leading 13 digs on the hardest hit ball of the night from someone not named Jamion Hartley.
The dig denied a set-tying point, and sparked a four-one rally for Ball State, who didn’t look back from there.
The second set progressed in almost identical fashion, showcasing all power from both teams, and sideout after sideout. With the two top blocking teams in the MIVA going head-to-head high balls did not seem to be the solution, but senior outside hitter Jamion Hartley and his far and away match-leading 20 kills saw no need for tricks.
“I knew if I was set high, I was more than likely going to get a kill,” Hartley said. “Going up a big smart team like [Lewis] you have to be smart with your shots.”
One of Hartley’s ‘smart’ shots caught Lewis’ Greg Petty in the face, and the 6’6 outside hitter was slow to get up sporting a giant red mark.
Ball State again made a push late in set two and found itself at set point at 24-19. This time though Lewis showed why it is in contention for the No. 1 seed, and rattled off seven consecutive points to steal the second set.
Coach Joel Walton attributed the late collapse more to solid play from the Flyers than to weak play from the Cardinals that lead to their first dropped set in 18 tries.
With the match that Ball State for the most part had controlled suddenly all square, the experience-laden Cardinals did not panic.
“I’m really proud of how our guys came back in sets three and four, and kind of resent the message that we mean business,” Walton said.
After scowling going into the locker room after the first two sets, the next two led to more jovial reactions.
Ball State dominated the next two sets, and never trailed or was tied in the fourth, effectively sending a message to its last regular season opponent, other top seed, Loyola, and the entire MIVA.
“We’re a team that nobody wants to run into right now,” Walton said.