No. 14 Ball State men’s volleyball (4-2) will set out on its first road trip of the season this weekend, traveling to Fairfax, Virginia, to take on No. 12 Pepperdine and George Mason in the Uvaldo Acosta Invitational. 

Head coach Joel Walton knows that being out of the comfort of home court will present a whole new challenge to the Cardinals.

“The margin [for error] on the road is really what makes it hard to get victories,” Walton said. “If you’re playing at home there’s a level of comfort, there’s a routine that you have when you’re in town. When you go on the road, everything matters — travel, sleep, diet, motivation, the other team’s motivation.”

Ball State’s first opponent, No. 12 Pepperdine, should be a motivated bunch coming into Saturday’s match. After starting the season off with a win, Pepperdine (1-2) dropped its next two matches — both by a 3-1 margin — against No. 6 UC Irvine and No. 15 UC Santa Barbara.

Despite Pepperdine’s 1-2 record, Walton knows that the team will need to prepare for senior outside hitter Alex Harthaller, who has recorded nine of Pepperdine’s 20 service aces this season. Harthaller’s .900 service aces per set percentage leads the nation.

George Mason (2-4) is coming off a challenging stretch of matches, during which it faced four ranked opponents in its first six outings. The Patriots rank ninth in the nation in kills per set at 12.59 and eighth in assists per set with 11.91.

No matter the records, Walton knows that when you play good teams, one must avoid being predictable.

“You just can’t be patterned,” Walton said. “If you’re patterned then all of a sudden you might be really good at that one shot that you hit. But if you hit one shot, good teams are going to know what it is and they’re going to take it away, so that becomes one of our challenges.”

Although Walton wants to shore up the offense and make sure it has a diverse attack, the defense has put together some solid performances this season.

The Cardinals rank fifth in the country in blocks per set at 2.80, while senior middle attacker Matt Walsh, the reigning Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Offensive Player of the Week and Sports Imports/AVCA Player of the Week, is second in the nation in total blocks per set at 1.409. Walsh is also ninth in hitting percentage this season, complementing his blocking numbers with a .433 hitting percentage.

Ball State will play its first match of the invitational against Pepperdine Saturday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. The team’s match against George Mason is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 28 at 5 p.m.

Contact Nate Fields with comments at nefields@bsu.edu or on Twitter @NateNada.