Sophomore setter Jenna Spadafora serves the ball during a game earlier in the month. The women’s volleyball team is 5-1, starting the season off above expectations. DN FILE PHOTO JORDAN HUFFER
WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Low preseason rank motivates Ball State
Kelly Hopkins looked at Jenna Spadafora and whispered.
The two sophomores on the Ball State women’s volleyball team debated what place the team was predicted to finish in the preseason polls.
The pair decided on third, after asking head coach Steve Shondell, who wasn’t sure himself.
Preseason polls vs current position
MAC West Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Western Michigan (5 first place votes)
2. Northern Illinois (4) 3. Central Michigan (3)
4. Ball State 5. Eastern Michigan
1. Ball State
3. Northern Illinois
4. Western Michigan
5. Central Michigan
6. Eastern Michigan
They were wrong. In the coaches’ preseason poll, Ball State was picked to finish fourth in the MAC West and didn’t receive a first place vote.
It was a far cry from the team’s 2011 season just two years ago, when they went 23-6 during the regular season.
The teams picked to finish ahead in 2013 were the Western Michigan University, Northern Illinois University and Central Michigan University in the MAC West.
“It wasn’t good for us to be ranked that low and it’s a great motivator,” Hopkins said. “We want to go out there and show people that we’re better then they think we are. … It gives us the opportunity to prove others wrong.”
None of those teams are ahead of Ball State right now, who sits atop the MAC West standings at 5-1 and have knocked off each of the three schools.
The preseason rankings are usually amassed by looking at the success a team had in the previous season along with players who are leaving and which ones are returning. For Ball State,
it was difficult to gauge how successful the team could be because last season’s squad was ravaged by injuries.
Not to mention the graduation of Kara Bates, an outside hitter who was named to the All-MAC First Team in 2011 and 2012.
Replacing her would be a transfer from Morehead State University, Alex Fuelling. At the time she was an unknown commodity, nobody knowing during the preseason that she would be ranked third in the MAC with 3.79 kills per set.
The combination of a poor 2012 season coupled with Bates’ loss and new transfers made coaches wary of ranking Ball State highly.
“I think it’s better to start low than being at the top right away,” Spadafora said. “It’s better to earn it.”
Up to this point, Ball State has earned the top spot. Fuelling and another transfer, Mackenzie Kitchel, have proven their worth.
Shondell said he doesn’t put much stock into preseason rankings. He said there are too many unknowns and most of the time they offer a poor reflection of the actual standings at the end of the season.
He replicated the same sentiments that his players produced, saying that although he doesn’t agree with the ranking, he understands why there received that spot.
And it gives the team extra incentive to silence doubters.
“I love being the underdog and proving everybody wrong,” Spadafora said “I love that feeling.”