Cardinals look to conquer MIVA

Friday's game marks the beginning of 4-game home stand

Four seasons have gone by since Ball State last won the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association crown in 1997. Fourth-year head coach Joel Walton is very familiar with the history of men's volleyball at Ball State and hopes this year will see a return to the dominant and winning ways of the past.

"I know the tradition," said Walton, who played under the tutelage of Ball State Hall of Famer Don Shondell. "It had been commonplace for us to win the MIVA championship. I have put a lot of pressure on myself. We have gone four seasons without winning the conference (title) and we are definitely overdue."

After posting the best record since 1997 (19-9 overall, 12-4 MIVA), Walton and the team are hoping to improve on three consecutive semifinal losses to MIVA champion Ohio State. With a ranking of 10 in the nation, Ball State certainly seems poised to do just that and more.

"In my first two years here, we struggled, and that was hard because I didn't want the team to play at that level," said Walton, who was 2001 MIVA Coach of the Year. "We all had goals to get the team back to (a greater level). We had some success last year and we want to build upon that this year.

"We are a much better team (now) and I expect the guys to come out and show that."

Leading the way back to dominance will be senior Paul Fasshauer and junior Matthew Denmark who, Walton said, are the best combination of middle attackers in the nation. Both were invited to train with the USA Volleyball Team, and Fasshauer was named to the University Games Team.

"Compared with some of the other middle attackers I see on some of the other teams, they are the best," Walton said about the duo. "They each have the ability to get a high hitting percentage, get a lot of kills and block a lot of balls." Combined, they had the best hitting percentage (.394) in the MIVA last season.

Walton's four key elements of a championship team are, good ball control, a great setter, dominant attackers and mental strength.

"Championship teams need a great setter because he is the person who runs the offense," Walton said. "(Setters) have to deliver the ball to attackers in a way where they can get into a groove and (sophomore Keith) Schunzel does just that."

With Schunzel as the great setter, Fasshauer and Denmark as the dominant attackers, junior Josh Hall spearheads the good ball control with his defense. His average of 2.14 digs a game was tied for fourth in the nation last year.

"A championship team," said Walton, who considers Hall as one of the best defensive players in the nation in 2001, "needs to have good ball control. You have to have players capable of passing serve to target on a consistent basis. That is also a function of the defense. A team needs tenacious defense so other teams will feel incapable of getting the ball to hit the floor."

There are 13 returning players from last year. Such experience will be a big asset to the team this year.

"(Mental strength) is not as obvious as the others," says Walton. "It comes, however, in a team's ability to gel, play together and (handle various challenges that arise during the year). All championship teams have mental strength... and the fact that we are so experienced will help us out a lot."

The team opens its season this Friday and Saturday, playing host to Concordia College and Long Beach State University, respectively.


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