Ball State setter Connor Gross celebrates with outside attacker Matt Szews after the Cardinals won the second set of the game against Saint Francis Jan. 12 in Worthen Arena. Ball State won against Lindenwood and Quincy on Feb. 25. Terence K. Lightning Jr. // DN File
PREVIEW: No. 13 Ball State men's volleyball vs. No. 7 Lewis and No. 10 Loyola-Chicago
No. 13 Ball State men's volleyball can clinch a top-four seed in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association tournament this weekend, and one scenario is a little more straightforward than the others — just win.
If the Cardinals beat No. 7 Lewis on Thursday and No. 10 Loyola-Chicago on Saturday, the Cardinals (17-8, 8-6 MIVA) would clinch a semifinal tournament match at Worthen Arena on April 15.
"I feel that we're pretty evenly matched against both Lewis and Loyola," Ball State head coach Joel Walton said. "Whoever shows more team effort and some exceptional individual efforts will be the team that comes out on top."
- Thursday: Home vs. No. 7 Lewis at 7:30 p.m.
- Last match: Loss, 1-3 (27-25, 21-25, 17-25, 17-25) on Feb. 17, 2017
- Saturday: Home vs. No. 10 Loyola-Chicago at 7:30 p.m.
- Last match: Loss, 0-3 (22-25, 11-25, 23-25) on Feb. 18, 2017
Many of the Cardinals are familiar with members of both the Flyers and the Ramblers — 10 of Ball State's 19 players are from Illinois, the home of both Lewis and Loyola.
"We all know the majority of those guys so it's going to be a real personal night, at least for me," freshman outside attacker Blake Reardon said. "We just have to keep our energy up and our eye on the prize."
In the first match this season, the Flyers (20-6, 11-3 MIVA) defeated the Cardinals 3-1 in Romeoville, Illinois. Redshirt sophomore opposite Mitch Perinar, a left-handed server, gave the Cardinals trouble as he finished with 15 kills and also three service aces.
"Perinar isn't typically their best server but we've struggled with him in the past," Walton said. "You have to be able to do a good job against him because once he gets hot, he gives a lot of energy to their team."
Lewis is hitting .312 for the season and has been led offensively by Perinar and redshirt freshman outside hitter Ryan Coenen, who led the Flyers with 21 kills in the first match against Ball State.
"Any time your team is hitting over .300 for the season, you're doing a good job," Walton said. "They're able to spread their offense out and it can make them hard to stop."
In the first meeting against the Ramblers (15-10, 8-6 MIVA), the Cardinals lost 3-0 and had their second lowest attack percentage of the season, hitting just .146.
Another left-handed server gave Ball State trouble with Loyola — junior Ben Plaisted. He finished with 12 kills and three service aces to lead the Ramblers in that match.
"He was just really in tune and played really confident against us," Walton said. "He took some pretty critical swings at key points in that match where if we're able to make a play defensively then maybe we win a game or two and it's a totally different match."
Walton also had high praise for junior middle blocker Jeff Jendryk, who currently has the third-highest attack percentage in the MIVA at .434.
"He's an elite middle — he's not only of the best middle attackers in our conference, but also nationwide," Walton said. "You have to be able to do a good job against him because he's someone who can inspire his team and feed them the fire that it takes to compete at their best level."
While Walton said he wants his team to treat these upcoming two matches like they would any other match, he also wants his team to understand the significance of what's at stake.
"They can't let the emotion of either night take them over to where they're uncomfortable or unwilling or unable to play at their best," Walton said. "Whichever team is able to have guys step on the court and have good performances will be the team that win this weekend."