The regular season success under Shondell hasn't translated into postseason wins.
WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Ball State makes final preparations for MAC Tournament
After securing the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in this weekend’s Mid-American Conference Tournament, the Ball State women’s volleyball team won't find out until Friday who it will play.
Regardless, head coach Steve Shondell is preparing his squad for an intense match.
“First and foremost, [we are] just trying to prepare for the speed of the game we are going to be playing against in all these matches this weekend,” Shondell said. “Western [Michigan], Ohio, Northern [Illinois], Buffalo -- they are all playing a really fast-tempo game with very physical athletes.”
With many MAC teams playing a quicker style of offense, defense will be key if Ball State is going to win its first conference tournament title since 2002.
Shondell said defensive positioning and quick movement would be points of emphasis in stopping their opponent.
Ball State put forth one of its best defensive performances over the past week against Toledo, holding the Rockets to a .046 attack percentage. Shondell said while the defense has improved throughout the season, it is not where it needs to be just yet to win a tournament.
“We were picking up a lot of balls that we had not been picking up in recent weeks defensively,” Shondell said. “We were just as quick as we’ve been in attacking the ball.”
Whichever team wins the first-round matchup between No. 5 seed Western Michigan and No. 8 seed Buffalo will provide a tough test for Ball State's defense, as both squads boast potent offenses.
The Cardinals went a combined 3-0 against the two teams during the regular season, but both matches with the Broncos were five-setters.
Western Michigan led the MAC in kills during the regular season with 1,629 and finished third with a .237 attack percentage.
Buffalo finished fifth in the conference in both hitting percentage and kills.
Despite the Cardinals' success against their possible first opponent, the familiarity with both teams makes the matchup more difficult.
"[In the] conference tournament, I mean you lose, you're done," redshirt junior Alex Fuelling said. "Once you're in the tournament, you're fighting for your life at that point."
Western Michigan and Buffalo will battle in the first round of the tournament at 5:30 p.m Friday.
Shondell said the beauty of earning a bye is the luxury of having to play one fewer match, but that winning three matches in three days will be a challenge in itself.
Despite the goal of winning the entire tournament, Shondell added that his team shouldn't be looking ahead to future matches, including a potential matchup with No. 1 seed Ohio in the semifinals.
“We’re going to have to put together three good matches,” he said. “We cannot afford not to have a good offensive match or good defensive match. We have to be solid in every single match to have a chance at winning the tournament.”
The Cardinals’ first tournament match is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 22 in Athens, Ohio.