When the lights turn on in the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio, the Ball State women’s volleyball team can’t afford to make mistakes. Not when one error could make the difference between a Mid-American Conference championship and leaving empty handed. As the pressure builds, so does the energy that seniors Jacqui Seidel and Kylee Baker play with.
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By the end of Saturday’s match against Western Michigan University, Lauren Grant had 10 kills. That would normally put a player at or near the top of the kill lead in a match. Not this time, though, not when four other players finished with even more in one of the strongest offensive performances of the season by the Ball State women’s volleyball team. But it wasn’t holes in the defense that Ball State was seeing that spurred the offense, said sophomore middle blocker Hayley Benson. “[It was] a lot of determination,” she said.
Few things could make Ball State’s regular season closing win against Western Michigan University more satisfying for Jenna Spadafora. Doing it on her birthday is one of them. “I love that I got a win on my birthday,” Spadafora said.
Ball State has seen its fair share of strong outside hitters lately. It doesn’t get any easier Friday, when the Ball State women’s volleyball team travels to Northern Illinois University in the final weekend of the regular season. After facing Lauren Rafdal, who leads the Mid-American Conference in kills, the Cardinals will take on Mackenzie Roddy.
After injuring her ankle in practice earlier this season, recovering physically has only been half the battle for Alex Fuelling. When the sophomore outside hitter took the court against the University of Toledo on Tuesday, being physically ready was only the start of being fully healthy. “I wanted to worry about how to attack Toledo and less about my ankle,” Fuelling said after the match.
A two-match losing streak isn’t usually something to be concerned about. It’s just unfamiliar territory for the Ball State women’s volleyball team, considering the standards the players set since the Mid-American Conference portion of the schedule began. “We need to refocus,” sophomore outside hitter Alex Fuelling said.
The loss the Ball State women’s volleyball team suffered to the University of Toledo on Thursday wasn’t a surprise considering Toledo’s talent, but Saturday’s loss to a 2-12 conference University of Akron team was shocking.
AKRON, OHIO — Ball State was on a 7-0 run and had all the momentum, as the offense was throwing down kills and the defense was blocking nearly every attack and digging each volleyball that got past the blockers. But the hole the women’s volleyball team had dug itself was too large. The 7-0 run only tied the fourth set of Ball State’s 3-1 (17-25), (19-25), (25-9), (26-24) loss to the University of Akron. After leading the set 24-23, Ball State collapsed and allowed Akron to fire off the last 3 points, sealing Ball State’s second straight Mid-American Conference loss. It’s the first conference losing streak Ball State has seen this season. “In the first two sets, [Akron] dug everything we hit,” Ball State head coach Steve Shondell said.
Ball State took on the Toledo Rockets on Nov. 7. The Cardinals dropped the match 2-3.
Leading 24-23 in the third set after already taking the first two, the Ball State women’s volleyball team was ready to finish off the University of Toledo. Worthen Arena’s fans were on their feet, all 1,454 of them — the biggest attendance of the season. They were ready to explode if Ball State swept Toledo, cementing the team in first place in the Mid-American Conference West. It never happened.
With the women’s volleyball regular season coming to a close within the next few weeks, there have been numerous upsets and influential games that have shaped how the Mid-American Conference standings have shaped up.
There wasn’t much of a freshman adjustment period for Kylee Baker. Now a senior, Ball State’s outside hitter was immediately thrown into the game when she was a freshman.
Kylee Baker didn’t mince words. “That loss never should have happened in the first place,” she said. Ball State’s senior outside hitter remembers what happened the first time Ball State played the University of Toledo.
Lauren Grant isn’t exactly like the rest of the seniors. Unlike Jacqui Seidel, Mindy Marx, Catie Fredrich, and Kylee Baker, Grant didn’t begin her volleyball career at Ball State. The outside hitter played her freshman season at the University of Cincinnati and barely saw the court.
Before the season began, Ball State women’s volleyball head coach Steve Shondell referred to senior Jacqui Seidel as the moral and emotional leader of the team. It’s an easy argument to make, seeing as she’s competed in 91 matches throughout her Ball State career, seeing time in 10 as a freshman. When Seidel entered Ball State, she sat behind Brittany McGinnis, who helped mentor her.
It had been 11 months since Jenna Spadafora lined up at outside hitter. The sophomore setter had her game plan turned upside down Friday when freshman Mackenzie Kitchel injured her left calf.
Maybe it’s in the genes. Ball State women’s volleyball outside hitter Alex Fuelling has carried her team’s offense this season, just one attack attempt shy of 700 and leads the team in kills with 285. For her, it isn’t just practice that’s brought her to where she is today.
Varied is one word that could be used to describe Ball State’s offense against Miami University. Another would be inconsistent. Four Cardinals finished with at least 12 kills against the RedHawks in a 3-1 win over the visitors. Lauren Grant and Mindy Marx led the way with 16 kills each, although none of them came easy as it took them 62 attack attempts to get there.
After freshman outside hitter Mackenzie Kitchel left the game early, both teams traded points until Ball State took a 14-12 lead, forcing a Bowling Green State University timeout.
With the Mid-American Conference portion of the schedule halfway done, the Ball State women’s volleyball team has built an identity. Head coach Steve Shondell said he wants to see passing with laser accuracy, and he’s gotten it for the most part.