Sophomore outside hitter Alex Fuelling sends an attack over the net during the game against Buffalo on Oct. 5 in Worthen Arena. Fuelling took 14 kills out of an attempted 27 leading to a Ball State sweep of 3-0. DN PHOTO COREY OHLENKAMP
WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL: Ball State’s keys all season fall flat in loss
Strategies that Ball State women’s volleyball head coach Steve Shondell preached all season seemed to vanish at the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
During the 31-game regular season, his team relied on accurate passing, a lights-out defense and swarming energy to vault them to a 24-7 record.
It may have been injuries, Western Michigan’s game plan or the grind of playing 116 sets throughout the regular season that played a factor in Ball State’s first-round loss.
Whichever it was, there was something missing from Ball State on Friday night.
“We could have had more intensity tonight,” sophomore outside hitter Alex Fuelling said. “After that first game, their bench was cheering, even if they didn’t score, they were still talking. … We could have used some more energy on our side.”
Western Michigan’s players and fans were audibly excited. After each Western Michigan point in the last three sets, the Western Michigan faithful exploded in cheers.
With the third set tied at 17, the Broncos blocked two straight attacks back on the ground on Ball State’s side. Both times, nearly every Broncos player leapt up and screamed, further pumping the crowd and encouraging the team.
Even after Ball State won points, the team was quiet. Compared to previous matches when players were calling out things to their teammates nonstop, Ball State had less communication than usual.
The communication struggles may have had a direct relation to how they passed the ball. Shondell has referred to “Ball State style volleyball” as a program that prides itself on being able to pass the ball on point and allow senior setter Jacqui Seidel to be in the best possible position to set the ball.
Not much of that happened in the postseason loss.
“Passing is our forte, and all night, we were passing the ball short,” Shondell said. “I don’t really know how to explain it; it’s just something that happens.”
Throughout the night, Western Michigan’s serves fell in front of Ball State defenders, forcing the defense to move up. Because of the sudden shift when coming toward the ball, players often weren’t able to get enough lift underneath the ball to provide Seidel a quality opportunity.
The passed balls wound up around her midsection and head when they needed to be high enough for them fall down, so she could place her hands underneath and properly set the ball.
When bumps were high enough, they often were off target, forcing Seidel to chase.
The lack of cohesion led to what Shondell said was one of their biggest downfalls, a lack of defensive aggression.
“We needed to make more defensive plays,” he said. “Western Michigan made them and we didn’t, they were just flying to the ball all night.”
Ball State seemed a step slow on defense, and Western Michigan found open holes as the sets wore on. Eventually, the hole Ball State had dug itself into was too great to overcome.