An exhausted Matt Sutherland took a deep breath after being asked how he felt.

“Tired,” he said. “I’m really tired.”

The Ball State men’s volleyball team had just finished its second match within 24 hours, this one a full five sets.

Previous match:
3-2 win vs. Harvard

Next match:
Thursday at 7:30 vs. NJIT

Top offensive player:
Marcin Niemczewski: 232 kills, 12 services aces, 104 digs

With the demanding schedule of the season wearing down players’ bodies, head coach Joel Walton took precautions to protect his team’s health.

“We’ve got a couple players, mostly guys who have played a lot, the wear and tear is starting to take its toll on them,” he said. “We have to look for opportunities to cut practice short and manage the types of drills we’re running.”

Some of Ball State’s drills push players to the limit. One drill puts multiple volleyball’s in play and requires constant movement from the players to help improve conditioning.

By eliminating or cutting back on those drills, players can enter matches healthier.

One player benefitting from shorter practices is outside attacker Larry Wrather. He suffered a leg injury earlier this season against Lewis and hasn’t seen as much time attacking since. Against Lees-McRae and Harvard, he took a total nine swings and didn’t record a kill.

With a match against the New Jersey Institute of Technology looming on Thursday, Walton said his team was still feeling fatigued during the Tuesday practice.

Strength training remains important to the team but has to come through easier exercises that don’t strain the body. Walton talks to the strength staff to make sure the players are being taken care of properly.

“We don’t want our players going through extremely rigorous types of workouts during these weeks,” Walton said. “We’re trying to catch our breath and we don’t want to wear our players down to the point they end up getting injured.”

Some of the most active players on the team are middle attackers Kevin Owens and Matt Leske, outside attacker Marcin Niemczewski and libero David Ryan Vander Meer.

All four rarely get breaks, even during blowouts where backups start the second and third sets.

Walton wanted to rest players for most of a match against Lees-McRae, but had to put them back in after the second and third string players were unable to win the third set.

Owens has played in 71 of 74 sets and Leske has played in 68. Niemczewski has taken nearly 500 attacks along with maintaining his defensive play as Vander Meer throws himself across the court, taking punishment just to deny opponenents attacks.

Vander Meer ranks No. 11 in the nation with 2.45 digs per set while Leske ranks third in blocks per set with 1.47.

With Walton taking precautions to keep his team healthy, Leske and Owens should be able to force mistakes from upcoming opponent NJIT.

“We’re trying to work hard enough that our guys stay in shape,” he said. “But not so hard that we run into bad situations.”