It’s not often a team will defeat both the defending national champion as well as the runner-up in back-to-back nights.

Ball State men’s volleyball did so after defeating No. 11 Loyola and No. 14 Lewis last week. The Cardinals boast an 11-3 overall record with a 5-0 Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association record.

The recent eight-match win streak has pushed them to No. 9 in the country.

MIVA Standings

Ball State - (11-3, 5-0 MIVA)

Ohio State - (12-3, 7-1 MIVA)

Loyola (Ill.) - (9-4, 4-2 MIVA)

Lewis - (10-6, 5-3 MIVA)

McKendree - (3-4, 3-3 MIVA)

Grand Canyon - (9-6, 2-4 MIVA)

Quincy - (8-12, 2-5 MIVA)

IPFW - (4-9, 0-5 MIVA)

Lindenwood - (2-9, 0-5 MIVA)

While head coach Joel Walton is glad where his team is, “at this moment,” he believes they “have to be there at the end of the season.”

With Walton under the helm, Ball State has been “there” – marking winning records – in all but two of the past 17 seasons. Each year, however, the Cardinals have been over-shadowed by the big-three in the conference.

For the past 14 seasons, either Loyola, Lewis or Ohio State had finished as the MIVA regular season champions.

The first half of this season has opened very similar to the 2002 season, which was the last time Ball State won the MIVA regular season championship. This is the first time Ball State started off the season 3-0 against Lewis, Loyola and Ohio State since that season.

Ball State has gotten off to a strong start in the MIVA, as they are the only team who remains undefeated in conference play. It has handled all three of the usual front-runners, the Ohio State and Lewis victories came in five sets while the victory over Loyola came in four.

“It feels awesome… we definitely deserve these wins,” sophomore middle attacker Matt Walsh said. “We’ve been fighting hard and working hard in practice and it feels even better that we actually got the wins.”

For many years, the West Coast teams dominated the volleyball scene, but there are currently four MIVA teams who have entered the NCAA volleyball top-10 rankings due to the increased popularity in the Midwest.

This has made Ball State a top target for upcoming opponents.

“It’s a really good start in conference and now I think we are going to be the front runner, and there’s going to be a big target on our head,” Walton said.

Ball State finishes its six-match home stretch this week against Quincy (8-12, 2-5 MIVA) on Thursday and Lindenwood on Friday (2-9, 0-5 MIVA).

Although the Cardinals' upcoming opponents both sit in the bottom three teams in the MIVA, Walton is not taking them for granted.

“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing,” Walton said. “Both of those teams are going to be looking to send a message and come out of our gymnasium with a win.”

The coach’s mindset is also shared among his players.

“It’s really important to keep the mindset that anyone can come out and play at any time and we really need to focus and key-in on every game,” Walsh said. “We can’t really let up no matter who we are playing.”

After taking the first two sets against Lewis (25-23, 25-22) on Feb. 18, Ball State dropped the next two sets (17-25, 16-25), which forced a fifth set at Worthen Arena.

That is when the depth of the Cardinals' lineup came into play.

“Regardless [of whether] you’re a starter or not, we got a lot of guys on the bench that could put in some work and do some great things out there,” junior outside attacker Mike Scannell said. “It’s always great to have someone come out there and take care of business.”

During the victory over Lewis, 12 different Ball State players saw action. That same number of players has seen action in more than 10 sets this season.

The lineup depth is very similar to the 2002 roster, which used 13 players regularly. Each of them finished the season recording double-digit sets.

Ball State sits at the mid-way point of its season, with 14 matches remaining. The team's schedule will not get easier as they have match-ups against No. 4 UCLA and No. 13 University of California-Irvine. They will also face No. 5 Ohio State, Lewis and Loyola one more time each.

“It is critical for our offense and serving to continue to improve in order for us to be where we want at the end of the season,” Walton said.

The Cardinals' next home match is on Feb. 25 against Quincy at Worthen arena at 7:30 p.m.