Senior outside attacker Matt Sutherland hits the ball over the net in the match against Mount Olive on March 1 at Worthen Arena. The men's volleyball team is 10-5 in their season. DN PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHERTY
Midwest men's volleyball closing gap against West Coast opponents
Since the beginning of competitive men’s volleyball at the Division I level in 1970, West Coast schools in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Conference have historically dominated the competition.
There have only been five instances in the past 45 years where a team outside of the MPSF have won a National Collegiate Championship title.
In recent years, this consistency has been challenged by the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association. MIVA schools have taken home the championship three times in the past five seasons, including back-to-back championship wins from the Loyola University in 2014 and 2015.
“I think the MIVA is right there just behind the West Coast, and last year we were ahead of the West Coast,” Ball State head coach Joel Walton said. “We had our two teams playing for the championship match, Lewis and Loyola competing against each other.”
In recent years, Ball State men’s volleyball has been at the forefront of closing the once very wide gap between the MIVA and the MSPF.
Ball State looked to show its talent against West Coast competition against No. 12 Stanford on Jan. 10.
Ball State opened its season losing to Stanford in three sets. This is the first of three MPSF opponents Ball State will play this season. Although the Cardinals were unable to pull away a win, the fact that Stanford traveled to the Midwest to play Ball State, and later Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, shows that MPSF schools are eager to travel and play Midwest competition.
“This time of the year, we want to be playing non-conference opponents because we want to see how our teams performing have a chance to evaluate the guys work on things fix things improve things before we get to the conference season,” Walton said.
Walton has witnessed the MIVA's uprising during his days playing for Ball State, and now entering his 18th season as head coach, he embraces every opportunity to play non-conference match-ups.
Playing Stanford was more than just good practice for the team.
“If the Midwest teams are beating the West Coast teams, then that sends a very good statement,” Walton said.“But if the Midwest teams are losing, then the West Coast guys get to go back home and brag about being the best conference in the country.”
While Stanford won the bragging rights now, the season has only just begun. With more West Coast teams showing interest in playing Midwest teams, the cultural divide has continued to diminish.
Ball State will look to make up for its home-opening loss when it faces off against UCLA and UC-Irvine in March.
“We want to have bragging rights, we want kids to feel like they can come in to any program in the MIVA and play against the best players in the country and have an experience to get the training they need to go on to whatever level they aspire to,” Walton said.