Senior Kevin Owens and sophomore Jack Lesure compete in the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association tournament last season. DN FILE PHOTO JORDAN HUFFER
MEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Ball State opens season against defending national champion
Replacing two starting outside attackers will be hard enough for Ball State head coach Joel Walton and his men’s volleyball team when they open the season Saturday.
He said true freshman Brenden Surane would start on the right side at outside attacker, hoping to help replace the graduated Greg Herceg and Jamion Hartley.
There will be no time for Surane to adjust, not when the first match is against defending national champion UC Irvine.
“We don’t have to be perfect,” Walton said. “But Irvine does everything well. They have great offensive weapons, and they ball control very well, which means we’ll have to compete at a high level.”
UC Irvine brings one of the most varied attacks in the nation, led by setter Michael Saeta. In three matches this season, Saeta has 113 assists while Jeremy Dejno and Zack La Cavera had 38 and 44 kills apiece.
Walton said what makes UC Irvine’s offense so dangerous is the ability to control the ball. With strong execution, UC Irvine can run plays whether it’s serving, receiving or playing defense.
”It puts a lot of pressure on us defensively,” Walton said. “You’re not able to read and get your block in a great position as easily against a team like that.”
Ball State will rely on seniors Kevin Owens and Matt Leske for leadership. The pair of middle attackers bring experience to help balance out the youth displayed by Surane and are expected to be leaders throughout the season.
The pair combined for 42 of the 66 total blocks for Ball State last season and 216 block assists. Standing at 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-7, the physical presence brought will be a key in slowing down UC Irvine’s offense.
Walton said there could be another factor that affects the outcome of Saturday’s match, one that’s more mental than physical.
He wants his players to be confident but not cocky, understand their skill level and believe in themselves.
“I always want my guys to have a little bit of swagger,” Walton said. “Not to say I want them to be punks or idiots on the court, but you want them to have a confidence in themselves and each other. … There’s consistency in effort as well as attitude.”
The consistency starts with setter Graham McIlvaine. Now a senior, he is in charge of feeding Ball State’s several options and determining which one should get the ball each play.
Walton said McIlvaine has improved his play each year and now much concentrate on making sure he makes quick decisions, which will be necessary when facing a UC Irvine team that’s strong on defense.
The visiting Anteaters are ranked No. 1 in the country after winning back-to-back national championships in the previous two seasons, but fell to MIVA preseason favorite Loyola on Thursday night.
Ball State’s veterans will be counted on to lead the younger players when they take the court Saturday, although none of them have experience against UC Irvine.
In three previous seasons, the Cardinals haven’t taken on the Anteaters, so there’s no previous knowledge of the opponent to draw back on.
When it comes to playing UC Irvine, they’re all rookies in that sense.