Sophomore middle attacker Parker Swartz is welcomed to the court by head coach Joel Walton for the game against Fort Wayne on Feb. 7 in Worthen Arena. The Cardinals will face the Lewis Flyers on Feb. 17 and will head 45 minutes north on Feb. 18 for a game against the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers. Kyle Crawford // DN File
PREVIEW: No. 11 Ball State men's volleyball vs. No. 7 Lewis, No. 10 Loyola-Chicago
Ball State men's volleyball plays in a pair of Illinois venues this weekend where they haven't had much luck.
The No. 11 Cardinals (11-2, 3-1 MIVA) face the No. 7 Lewis Flyers at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Romeoville, Illinois before heading to play the No. 10 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers at 7 p.m on Saturday in Chicago.
Lewis (9-3, 4-2 MIVA) has won eight of its last 10 match ups with the Cardinals, and this season the Flyers have been able to utilize their depth, using a variety of rotations.
- Feb. 17: Away vs. Lewis at 7 p.m.
- Last meeting: Loss, 0-3 (22-25, 19-25, 13-25) on April 8, 2016
- Feb. 18: Away vs. Loyola at 7 p.m.
- Last meeting: Loss, 1-3 (23-25, 25-27, 29-27, 17-25) on April 9, 2016
"They have a deep roster, and within their roster, there are different personnel groups that they can put on the court," Ball State head coach Joel Walton said. "They've played four different left-side attackers, two different right-side attackers as well as three different middles."
The Cardinals have also struggled at Lewis — Ball State's last win in Neil Carey Arena was a 3-2 victory on April 6, 2010.
"Lewis's gym is a little smaller and tighter space than we're used to," Walton said. "If they have a good crowd in there, it can be an environment that is difficult for our players to relax in and play their best."
Loyola-Chicago (7-4, 3-1 MIVA) has become one of the premier programs in men's volleyball, winning two of the last three national championships. But many of the players from those teams, including U.S. National Team player Thomas Jaeschke, have moved on, so the Ramblers have worked underclassmen into their rotations.
"The key guys off of their teams that won national championships, their libero [Jake Selsky] and Jeff Jendryk, are the two guys that they try to build their team around," Walton said. "They have a brand new setter and two new left sides as well, and they are still trying to figure some things out."
The Cardinals are 2-8 in their last 10 matches against the Ramblers, but both wins were in Muncie. Ball State hasn't won on Loyola's home court since before 2000.
Loyola used to play in Alumni Gym until 1996 — an environment that Walton remembers vividly.
"Anything that could make you uncomfortable, their gym had," Walton said. "It was too hot, it was too loud, the ceilings were too low, it was too dark — we couldn't overcome that home-cooking that their facility used to give them."
Since 2012, Loyola has played in Gentile Arena, which Walton calls "a more competitive and more fair place to play a volleyball match in." However, in five road matches at the new arena the Cardinals have only won one set.
Ball State came away with two wins against Fort Wayne in the I-69 Rivalry last week — a 3-0 victory at home and a 3-2 come-from-behind victory on the road. Walton said the Cardinals need to keep winning away from Muncie to have a shot at the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association championship.
"Anytime you get a home win is really important," Walton said. "But the real differentiating factor is who are the teams that can go on the road and win the same way that they do at home."