For one freshman outside attacker, his first match Saturday night was against likely the most difficult opponent of the season.

Ball State’s Brendan Surane made his collegiate debut under the bright lights of Worthen Arena, for a program that has won over 20 conference championships, facing two-time defending national champion UC Irvine — ranked first in the country.

Regular season stages don’t get much bigger.

First match stats for Surane:
• 3 sets played
• 6 kills
• 6 errors
• 14 attack attempts
• 3 service errors
• 2 block assists

The combined factors could be enough to make a seasoned veteran’s blood run cold, much less a rookie.

“I was definitely a little nervous,” Surane said. “This is the No. 1 team in the nation and in the past, during high school, I watched these guys on TV playing for the national championship.”

Ball State was swept in the match, and Surane looked like a raw player going up against one of the top teams in the nation.

At times, he was caught out of position on defense, watching attacks hit the court just feet away from him. His mouth sealed shut, he would slowly look up with a look lacking satisfaction on his face, knowing he could do better.

It was a different feeling than what he’s used to as he dominated his opponents when he was younger.

But now, with one start under his belt, Surane said he knew what stuck out the most in his first match.

“How different it is coming from the high school level and club, and suddenly you’re playing UC Irvine,” he said. “It was a great experience though, lot to learn from and a lot to build off of.”

Although he struggled at times, the player showed flashes of why he was the only freshman to receive playing time against UC Irvine.

Surane recorded three kills in the first set. His first came when Ball State was leading 11-8. It extended the lead to four, the largest lead Ball State would have in any set all night. After UC Irvine took the lead, another kill from him tied the match.

Not a bad start for a player who was feeling “a little nervous.”

“I’d like to see him in more ideal situation, more one on one scenarios,” Ball State head coach Joel Walton said. “He picked up a few too many errors attacking and missed a few serves, but he’s got a lot better volleyball in him… He’s a freshman, and we’ll see him get a lot better.”

Those one-on-one scenarios were hard to come by as Surane usually faced blocking walls consisting of two opponents.

Six of his 14 attacks ended as errors, with two more being either blocked or deflected. For every positive, there was a learning experience he’ll take into the next match.

Each kill he couldn’t prevent stood as a reminder of the level of competition he faces now. After leading his team as a senior at Providence Catholic High School, he’s a freshman again, trying to get up to speed with the collegiate game.

On defense, Surane was leaping to block attacks from some of the most dangerous offensive players in the country, ones that he watched just a year or two ago.

“It was really surreal and different to be able to say, ‘I saw that guy win a national championship,’” he said. “Now, he’s across the net from me, and I’m trying to block him.”

And it’s only the first match.