In order to gain its No. 10 national ranking, the Ball State men's volleyball team swept the first round of conference matches in the tough Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association.

To keep that ranking, it'll have to do it again.

The Cardinals (15-5, 8-1 MIVA) trail Ohio State by half a game for first place in the MIVA standings. Ball State has eight matches remaining — seven in the conference — that will ultimately decide its seeding for the postseason MIVA Tournament.

MIVA Standings

  1. Ohio State (17-3, 9-1)
  2. Ball State (15-5, 8-1)
  3. Loyola (11-5, 6-3)
  4. Lewis (11-10, 6-5)
  5. Grand Canyon (11-9, 4-6)
  6. McKendree (6-8, 4-6)
  7. Quincy (15-17, 3-7)
  8. Lindenwood (4-10, 2-6)
  9. IPFW (7-12, 0-7)

"Our guys did a pretty good job at the beginning of the year handling a big road stretch," head coach Joel Walton said. "And we're going to finish with our last four matches on the road. Our guys need to be prepared for that."

Ball State struggled a bit out of the gate, starting 3-3 with losses to nationally-ranked Stanford and Penn State.

Once conference play started, the Cardinals got hot and never looked back.

They won 11 straight matches and got off to an 8-0 start in MIVA play before a five-set loss to Grand Canyon on March 5. During the winning streak Ball State picked up a victory over Ohio State on the road, and against defending national champion Loyola (Illinois) and runner-up Lewis.

"We know we're capable of beating any team in the nation," senior setter Hiago Garchet said. "We've beaten big teams, and we still have the same emotional aspect to the game and the same willingness to win a national championship this year."

To win a national title, Ball State would have to compete with teams like Stanford, Penn State and No. 4 UCLA, which beat Ball State 3-0 on March 7.

Ball State begins its last portion of the schedule by visiting IPFW before a three-match home stand, which includes matchups with No. 5 Ohio State and No. 14 University of California, Irvine.

The regular season concludes with four straight road matches, the last two against Lewis and Loyola.

"Every single one of those matches is going to matter," Walton said. "We've seen each team in our conference this year compete at a high level, so you can't take anyone for granted."

In the MIVA Tournament, the higher seed hosts the match in every round. Walton said it's important to stay in the top three seeds for home-court advantage, as the Cardinals have only lost one match at Worthen Arena this season.

He keyed on the team's offense and serving for the last part of the regular season, which will likely be a big factor in the team's overall success this year.

"Hard. It's going to be very hard," Garchet said. "And I'm going to do my best to make it happen. We've won many, but there's still a long war there."