Success based on strong returners

Men's volleyball head coach Joel Walton and setter Keith Schunzel, traveled to Long Beach State University in Los Angeles last year to watch the four best teams in the nation -- UCLA, Penn State, BYU and Ohio State -- at the NCAA championship games.

"As Keith and I sat there and watched (the games), we thought our team stacked up with the other teams, especially athletically," Walton said.

Some fine tuning was all the Cardinals needed, Walton said, to pull off a national championship.

After losing only one player to graduation last year, the team has a strong nucleus of players returning, and a potential to make it to the NCAA tournament this year.

Among the returning players: Paul Fasshauer, who bolstered his skills playing for Team USA at the World University Games in Beijing, China, this summer; Matt Denmark, who trained this summer with a national team in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and newcomer Josh Zuidema, a transfer student who was an All-East Coast first team member.

"I definitely think this is our strongest team since I've been here," Walton said.

After only four days practice, the Cardinals traveled to Rochester, N.Y., Friday to kick off their preseason against Rutgers, Pepperdine and Mercyhurst. They came back unblemished, and did it in only nine games.

Ball State beat Rutgers (35-33, 30-19, 30-23) Friday, and Mercyhurst (30-27, 30-20, 30-25) and Pepperdine (30-26, 30-26, 30-20) Saturday.

All three of Ball State's weekend foes had at least three weeks' practice under their belts. But that didn't seem to faze the Cardinals.

"I think the reason we were able to still go in and play so well is because we returned such a solid nucleus of players from last year's team," Walton said.

"It was more like just going out and starting up again as opposed to trying to totally retrain a team and get them used to playing with each other."

Walton said he will use the preseason to polish the team and work on certain "technical aspects," which is all it would have taken, in his opinion, to make it to the NCAA championship tournament last year.

The Cardinals' next preseason game is at 7 p.m. Nov. 17, against alumni at Worthen Arena.


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