Highs and lows: Breaking down No. 12 Ball State's home success and road struggles
The regular season is nearing its end, and No. 12 Ball State men’s volleyball (13-11, 6-4 MIVA) is in the midst of a battle for positioning in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Tournament.
Ball State finished its regular-season road schedule with a 6-8 record, which included a mix of close losses and sweeps. In the mind of head coach Joel Walton, one of the bigger differences was the team’s energy away from home.
“When you’re not playing as well, it’s harder to celebrate; it’s more the energy of celebrating good plays, the energy of feeling good about yourself, the positive energy of getting that flowing,” Walton said. “That’s harder when you’re not playing well [and] when you’re feeling pressured because you’re either in a really close game or games that you’re trying to work back from a disadvantage. That’s a little bit of the energy that I’m talking about.”
Walton said that those factors mix in with the fact that the players have to adjust to not sleeping in their own beds, getting the same type of schedule they get at home and dealing with typically hostile crowd environments, allowing all of those things to feed off of each other and create more difficult circumstances to play through.
Conversely, the 12th-ranked Cardinals have put together strong performances inside the comfort of Worthen Arena this season, holding a 7-2 record at home that includes four sweeps, two of which were against ranked opponents. The good news for Ball State is that its final four matches are at home, which gives the team a chance to fine-tune some technical issues and try to get hot heading into the conference tournament.
“We’re at that point of the season where the guys have been playing for a good portion of the year now; we need to correct a few things,” Walton said. “Improving in a few areas, tweaking, those kinds of words are really what our practice is going to be all about, and when we get into the weekend, focus, confidence, momentum. That’s where it kind of turns a corner, and you try to use what you’ve worked on in the course of the week to build things that you want to accomplish on the weekend.”
Since the team is going to be at home to close out its season, Walton said that the players must take advantage of the opportunity to make the most of being able to get the rest, nutrition and workouts that they need in order to bring the proper energy into the regular season’s final four matches.
“Those [factors] make a big difference,” Walton said. “We have to be able to take advantage of that.”
From a player’s perspective, being at home brings a different level of motivation and comfort that allows the team to perform at a peak level.
“Whether or not we necessarily realize it, having the confidence at home is just something that is kind of a given, and it really subconsciously helps us play the way we want to play and is a strong motivator,” sophomore setter Jake Romano said. “Adversely to that, you can tell that the opponents oftentimes feel the reverse effect of that.
“Being at home obviously is just huge for us; being able to sleep in your own bed and eat here just makes such a difference that people don’t necessarily realize. Coming in every day and realizing that, that is something we need to focus on as far as the energy is going to be huge for us these next few weeks with these home-stretch matches here.”
Ball State will begin the final stretch of its schedule this weekend as it hosts Lindenwood (8-12, 2-8 MIVA) and Quincy (12-14, 0-10 MIVA).
The team’s match against Lindenwood is set to begin Friday at 7:30 p.m. Saturday’s match against Quincy is slated for 7:30 p.m.
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