Ball State men's volleyball looks for home-court advantage in conference tournament
The Ball State men’s volleyball Senior Night victory over McKendree marked its last home match of the regular season, but it will not be the final time the Cardinals will play at Worthen Arena this year.
Entering the weekend, Ball State was tied for first in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association standings with Ohio State. On March 25, the Buckeyes won 3-1 over the Cardinals.
MIVA standings (conference games remaining)
1. Ohio State: 11-1 (4)
2. Ball State: 10-2 (4)
3. Loyola: 8-3 (5)
4. Lewis: 8-5 (3)
5. Grand Canyon: 7-7 (2)
6. McKendree: 4-8 (4)
7. Quincy: 3-9 (4)
8. IPFW: 2-10 (4)
9. Lindenwood: 2-10 (4)
Ohio State now holds the tiebreaker with its four-set win compared with Ball State’s five-set win earlier this season.
The Cardinals cannot statistically finish lower than fourth place in the MIVA, but head coach Joel Walton understands his team’s final four matches have implications on home court in the later rounds of the MIVA tournament.
“We’re battling for second place. If we can hold onto that spot and win our quarterfinal match, we can play both our quarterfinal and semifinal match at home,” Walton said. “Every time you’re playing at home, it’s a huge advantage, and we want that advantage.”
This season, Ball State advantage has come in the form of a 12-2 record at home with its only two losses coming against then-ranked No. 13 Stanford and No. 1 Ohio State.
Just one year removed from its sixth-place MIVA finish, Walton said his three seniors could be the reason for the team’s success in 2016.
The three seniors, setter Hiago Garchet and outside attackers Marcin Niemczewski and Jack Lesure, all started on Senior Night.
Having all three seniors on the court was a unique experience for Niemczewski, since he has lived with both of them in college.
“I can’t remember a time when the three of us were on the court at the same time,” Niemczewski said. “[Lesure] and I started off as roommates freshman year, so we go way back. [Garchet] came in sophomore year and now I’m living with him, so it’s cool.”
While Garchet leads the team with 93 sets played, Niemczewski and Lesure have been sharing time because they play the same position.
Niemczewski has split time on the right side with junior Brendan Surane with Lesure coming off the bench.
“The toughest thing for [Lesure] right now is that he has played a position that Niemczewski plays and Surane plays,” Walton said. “We played [Lesure] for about a game and a half on the left side; … he did a pretty good job.”
Lesure has not been the only player who has played in an unusual role this season. Some players who saw significant playing time are now coming off the bench while others have moved into starting roles.
Walton said a lot of the team’s success has come from guys trusting that he is doing what is best for the team, something that was not seen last season.
“Last year we got to a point where the team just really wasn’t committed,” Walton said. “As long as they understand what we’re doing, … as long as they buy into whatever role they’re playing, it works.”
So far, Walton’s strategy has seemed to work.
The Cardinals began the season ranked No. 14 in the NCAA rankings and have not left the top 15 since then, moving up to as high as No. 8.
Ball State has won fifteen out of its last 18 games, and Niemczewski believes the Cardinals can play well if they bring the same energy into the final two road weekends of the season.
“I think the guys know what we’re capable of doing,” Niemczewski said. “I think the guys are ready to come back and finish the season strong moving into the conference tournament.”
April 1 and 2, Ball State will take on Quincy and Lindenwood. The following weekend will be against No. 13 Lewis and No. 12 Loyola, two teams who can still finish atop the MIVA.