students cheer on the women's volleyball team in the second game of the Active Ankle Tournament against Belmont on Aug. 28 at Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHERTY
Ball State women's volleyball dominates at home
Ball State women's volleyball has dominated at home this season. Surrounded by friends, family and energetic crowds every time they step onto their court, the Cardinals can't help but play well at home.
"The facilities here are great, and the arena just generates so much energy from everyone that comes to watch," head coach Steve Shondell said. "I know the girls wouldn't trade Worthen Arena for any other arena in the conference. They just love it here."
The adoration that the team shares for the home crowd is mutual; the team has one of the most dedicated fan bases in the conference.
Ball State averages the second-best attendance per home game in the Mid-American Conference. On average, 578 fans attend each home volleyball game, a number that only Western Michigan beats.
Seeing familiar faces is all the Cardinals need to get motivated on the court.
"It's great having friends and family here watching," outside hitter Mackenzie Kitchel said. "It becomes a pride thing — we don't think we should lose on our home court, especially in front of our loved ones."
This season, the Cardinals haven't disappointed their fans either; they have picked up wins in nine of their 10 home matches this season. Five of those home wins have come against conference opponents, all of which were won in three sets.
"We have been playing our best volleyball of the season and have been trying to get better every week," middle blocker Amanda Raker said. "It has really come together for us these last three weeks, and the team is running on all cylinders right now."
During its most recent trip home, the team won four straight matches on the its way out of the bottom of the MAC, putting it right back in contention to be a top seed come tournament time.
A lot of the credit goes to the girls' hard work, but Shondell believes that being home has changed the results of some of the matches.
"The crowd comes alive like no other crowd I've seen in the conference, and whenever the pep band is at courtside, they have a huge effect on the game for us," Shondell said. "I can't thank the home crowd enough for the way they give energy to the girls to feed from."
This isn't the first time the home court has been kind to Shondell's team. This is the third time in his six years that the team has had a home record with one or no losses.
Only one time under Shondell's coaching has the team lost more than three home games.
"The atmosphere here is definitely the biggest reason teams struggle against us on our home court," Raker said. "We call this place the volleyball capital of the nation for a reason."
Along with the dedicated crowd, the team has seniors that are able to channel the energy and bring out the best in the other players. Ball State has six seniors who know exactly how to take the intimidation of the crowd noises and use it to their advantage.
"We played all six seniors this weekend, and they really stepped up for us on our home court," Kitchel said. "They have so much experience and love playing here so much that it brings the best out of all of us and makes the task that much harder for our opponents."
The Cardinals' home success has given the team a lot of hope to be a big threat in the tournament. First, they must finish out the final two weeks of regular season play. Two matches will be at home.
"We have some very tough opponents ahead of us," Shondell said. "If we keep playing the way we played at home, I see no reason why we can't win on the road."
Ball State remains the best team in the MAC right now and looks to push it into the conference tournament.