Ball State falls to Western Michigan in MAC tournament
As she laid out, body fully outstretched toward the net, setter Jacqui Seidel gave the crucial point every ounce of energy she had in her body.
The ball came crashing down to the left of her arm.
So the Ball State women’s volleyball team’s season as well.
Ball State lost in four sets (25-17, 24-26, 20-25, 21-25) in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament for the second season.
The loss was the team’s first to Western Michigan as Ball State knocked off the team twice earlier in the season.
“Tonight, they were making the plays that we were making last week,” Ball State head coach Steve Shondell said about Western Michigan. “When you get beat twice, you get that hunger, that desire, that determination — that’s the tough thing about playing a team three times.”
All match, Ball State struggled to overcome Western Michigan’s blocking, which looked and played bigger throughout.
The Broncos finished with 11 blocks and held the Cardinals to just a .218 hitting percentage, digging nearly every attack that Shondell’s team threw down.
Ball State controlled the first set, utilizing every offensive player on the roster. Senior middle blocker Mindy Marx played well, both in the set and in the match. She finished with a team high of 13 kills.
After falling in the first set, Western Michigan’s demeanor changed. A team that seemed lackluster, slow and a step behind suddenly had a spark in their step. Balls that were hitting the ground in the first set were now hitting the forearm of Western Michigan libero Lena Oliver, who finished with a match high of 27 digs.
“Tonight was just like Akron,” Shondell said. “They made some unbelievable point saving plays, and it took the wind out of our sails.”
The third set saw Western Michigan score four points off blocks. With the set tied at 17, Western Michigan rejected two consecutive Ball State attacks, changing momentum that had originally been falling into Ball State’s favor.
Late in the third set, Seidel tried feeding the ball to senior Lauren Grant and sophomore Hayley Benson, but it was unsuccessful. Each attack was met with a dig, each tip over the net was met with a tip back over to the Ball State side.
A Ball State offense that was varied and a pain for opponents to defense all season was suddenly predictable.
“They knew what we were running and they scouted us really well,” sophomore outside hitter Alex Fuelling said. “We tried to mix up the offense by going from pin to pin, but it was hard for use to find a way around that block and when we did, they dug everything.”
Fuelling, who was one of Ball State’s strongest options all season, was ineffective. She finished with 10 kills and seven errors on 37 attacks, hitting just .08.
As Grant saw more action as the third set continued, Western Michigan began adjusting its block. As she leaped up on the right side for an attack attempt, Western Michigan immediately shifted an extra player over so there would be two blockers instead of the usual one.
The strategy worked because many of the attempts fell back onto Ball State’s side or were deflected to waiting defenders.
Ball State had a 19-16 lead in the fourth set before a 6-0 Western Michigan run put Ball State in a three-point hole.
Shondell pulled out a desperate move coming out of a timeout, having senior Kylee Baker attack after doing nothing but play defense for the last three matches to protect her from injury.
It didn’t make a difference. The Broncos continued to reject and deflect attacks, bringing the match to a close.
“I couldn’t have asked for more effort and heart out of them tonight,” Shondell said. “They did everything they could.”
It would be impossible for him to ask for more effort than what Seidel showed on the final point.