DAVE'S DIGS: Ball State will be fine, just get healthy
David Polaski is a junior journalism and telecommunications major and writes ‘Dave’s Digs’ for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the paper. Write to David at firstname.lastname@example.org
The loss the Ball State women’s volleyball team suffered to the University of Toledo on Thursday wasn’t a surprise considering Toledo’s talent, but Saturday’s loss to a 2-12 conference University of Akron team was shocking.
In hindsight, neither loss will matter in the long run — as long as Ball State can get healthy again.
Wins against those teams would look nice on Ball State’s résumé for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, but head coach Steve Shondell should be more concerned with winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament, a title the Cardinals haven’t held since 2002.
Just a few weeks ago, Ball State was the picture of health, its offense throwing down kills left and right while the defense stumped opponents. A rash of injuries then popped up, turning Ball State into a shell of itself recently.
Freshman outside hitter Mackenzie Kitchel is done for the season, sophomore outside hitter Alex Fuelling doesn’t have the same explosion she did before her ankle injury and senior outside hitter Kylee Baker left Saturday’s game and didn’t return.
There’s still one way the team can get into the NCAA tournament, win the MAC tournament. That will only happen if Fuelling and Baker can get healthy.
After the loss to Akron, Shondell said Fuelling has lost three inches from her jump. He’s right. There’s a black-and-white difference between her play right now and what she was producing just a month ago. When Baker left the court against Akron, the team’s defense took a hit.
Now, Shondell and the volleyball team can’t worry about not having the best record or top seed.
What’s most important is that Fuelling and Baker become better, not worse, next weekend. If that means giving them time off to rest their injuries, so be it. Those games are meaningless once the tournament starts and hopes of winning the tournament go down the drain without a healthy Fuelling or Baker.
Shondell said he hopes Baker will be back soon and can help anchor the defense, while he thinks Fuelling could be close to healthy next week and then back to 100 percent the week after that.
For Ball State to win the tournament, those need to not be just hopes and wishes, but reality.
Kitchel’s defense is irreplaceable, but sophomore Jenna Spadafora can step in and give Ball State the lost offense. A fully healthy Fuelling is a matchup nightmare for opponents and Baker is an effective all-around player.
When healthy, the Cardinals still have the most loaded, talented roster in the MAC, as was proven by beating Ohio University on the road. Injured, it’s a team that lost in four sets to Akron and struggled against Toledo this year.
No one will remember those struggles if Fuelling and Baker are healthy and lifting a MAC championship trophy above their heads.