Ball State (5-3, 0-0 MAC) fell 3-1 in a hard-fought battle against Northern Iowa (4-4, 0-0 MVC) in the first match of the 2018 Active Ankle Challenge. The Cardinals would follow with a 3-0 sweep of North Dakota State (2-7, 0-0 Summit).

Senior Meg Starling and junior Sydnee VanBeek were dominating forces at the net early in the match. In set one, VanBeek led the team with four kills and a .429 attack percentage, while Starling contributed four blocks (two solo and two assists) and hit .400. 

The teams rallied back and forth, but the Cardinals fell short, 25-21. Panther sophomore Kate Busswitz hit 1.00 and junior Karlie Taylor added five kills to the board.

“In these tournaments, we try not to be overly focused on who our opponents are, but rather how we handle the ball on our side,” head coach Kelli Miller said. “We can’t play one set poorly and one set well. We have to play each point fully.”

The Cardinals started set two hot with a 5-0 lead as junior setter Amber Seaman added two aces to the board. With a couple of Cardinal service errors and kills from Taylor and senior Piper Thomas, the Panthers brought the game back within two at 11-9. Though the game stayed close throughout, the Cardinals held onto the momentum this time around. Senior Ellie Dunn contributed five kills and led the Cardinal frontline to a victory in set two, 25-20. 

“Coming out and playing against good teams in these tournaments really helps to show us where we’re at,” Dunn said. “It gages what we need to do and where we need to work and really helps us to get those reps in.”

Set three saw the Panthers with an early lead with strong front row performances by sophomore Jaydlin Seehase and freshman Inga Rotto, along with an increase in attack errors for the Cardinals. The Panther offense racked up 15 kills, while the Cardinals finished the set with eight. Set three would go to the Panthers, 25-13. 

Though the Cardinals fought hard in set four, the Panthers came out on top with a 25-19 victory. Leaders for the Cardinals were Dunn with 14 kills, followed by Starling with 10 and a .500 attack percentage. Junior Kate Avila tallied 13 dig,s and Seaman added 31 assists on the day. Leaders for the Panthers were Taylor with 16 kills, followed by Seehase with 14. 

“You just have to come out and try to win every point,” Dunn said. “Doing my job as a hitter helps my teammates with their jobs, so I just try to do mine well.”

The second match of the day saw the Cardinals facing the North Dakota State Bison, who were also 0-1 on the day entering tonight’s match.

The Cardinals entered set one strong, with four players hitting above .400 and Dunn tallying 6 kills. Between the nine Bison hitting errors and the electric Cardinal frontline, a kill by Starling would seal the win, 25-10.

Set two saw the Bison putting up a fight, leading the Cardinals 11-7 at the first timeout. But the Cardinals weren’t going down easy. Dunn and VanBeek rattled off three consecutive kills, and four Bison attack errors soon after saw the Cardinals take the lead, 16-12. Sophomore Allie Mauch led the Bison with five kills and pulled them back within two, but the team would fall short to the Cardinals, 25-21.

“We talked a lot about hitting smarter going into set three,” Miller said. “In set two it felt like we were going for gusto when we really needed to get back into each shot and make our opponent play defense.”

The Cardinal Offense was hot in set three, grabbing a team attack percentage of .333. They went on to sweep the Bison 3-0 on the night. Dunn reached a season-high 18 kills while VanBeek added nine. 

“Finding good shots really helps us open up the offense,” Dunn said. “Mindset is key as well. Having the right mindset impacts the entire team and how you’re going to play.”

The Cardinals are back in action Saturday evening in Worthen Arena at 7 p.m. against the Indiana Hoosiers.

Contact Gabi Glass with comments at grglass@bsu.edu or on Twitter @gabiglass.