With just one senior on its roster in 2016, Ball State volleyball opened its season with three losses in the Fort Wayne Invitational held at IPFW. 

Head coach Kelli Miller said the young team will need to grow during the non-conference portion of its schedule.

“Our starting lineup was freshman, sophomore, freshman, sophomore, I mean just down the line,” she said. “It’s part of the process and if we can get better, if we can learn from every experience then when it starts to matter and conference hits, we’re going to be ready to go.” 

Team leaders

Kills

Sophomore Ellie Dunn: 37 kills

Sophomore Emily Holland: 27 kills

Junior Sabrina Mangapora: 26 kills

Assists

Freshman Amber Seaman: 108 assists

Digs

Freshman Amber Seaman: 45 digs

Sophomore Lauren Schreiner: 36 digs

Freshman Kate Avila: 27 digs

The Cardinals followed a season opening 3-0 loss to Youngstown State (25-16, 34-32, 25-19) Aug. 26 with a pair of five-set losses against Murray State (25-16, 20-25, 25-22, 25-13, 15-10) and Fort Wayne (22-25, 22-25, 25-22, 28-26, 15-5). Miller said Ball State became more competitive throughout the weekend. 

“I thought it was really up and down with how we competed,” she said. “I thought both matches for Murray and [Fort Wayne], we matured our mental side so we were able to compete for longer periods of time. And that’s definitely just a piece of experience and learning how hard you have to play in Division I volleyball.” 

Still, the Cardinals had a 2-0 lead over Fort Wayne Aug. 27, only for the Mastadons to come back and win three consecutive sets. In all three games, Ball State was also streaky — the team had a hitting percentage above .270 in three of its 13 sets, but was also held to a negative hitting percentage in three other sets. 

“I think [consistency] is really part of our maturity process,” Miller said. “So getting them to understand that every point —whether it’s in set five, whether it’s in the start of set one — it all matters the same and they all count for one point.”

Some of the young players stepped up to try and fill the void left by six departing seniors from last year’s roster. Sophomore outside hitter Ellie Dunn, for example, was named to the all-tournament team after leading the Cardinals with 37 kills. 

Dunn, however, said the team’s inexperience had little bearing on the losses. 

“I think a lot of it is just that it’s a fresh, new season,” she said. “We’ve still got things to tweak on. It’s one thing playing against your own teammates … it’s another to come out and see what other people can expose.”

Against Fort Wayne, the posted attendance of 612 was more than 10 times that of the Youngstown State (48 attendees) and Murray State (50 attendees) games, and Miller said the Cardinals fed off of the hostile home crowd’s energy.

“I honestly thought we played better with having a little bit of crowd noise,” she said. “… I really don’t think that it affected us in a negative way, which was great to see. Especially the first time out, you never know how the freshmen are going to handle it.” 

Fourth-year junior Sabrina Mangapora also said she thought the team responded well considering several players had never played in any collegiate game, let alone a game “where you have students screaming in your face 15 feet away.” 

At one point in the match, referee Eric Bulmahn even asked a Fort Wayne employee to rein in the student section. A group of male students decked out in American-themed outfits — including a "Reagan-Bush ’84" sweatshirt — were standing in the front row, creeping too close to the court.

Still, Mangapora said, playing with a young team “hasn’t been anything special.” 

“They’ve all played at a high level,” she said. “They all know what it takes, and I think this weekend proved it even more. We know what we have to do, we’re going to have a really focused week of practice and then we have a nice home game against another in-state rivalry so that’ll be a good test for us to see how we learned from what happened this weekend.”

That in-state rival, IUPUI, will play Ball State at 7 p.m. on Aug. 31 in Worthen Arena.