With two games left in the season, destiny was on Ball State University's (14-15, 7-9) side. Win both matches and the Cardinals earn the right to host a Mid-American Conference Tournament game Tuesday night. Lose one of the two matches and things could get messy.
The first half of the task was taken care of Thursday night with a 3-0 sweep of the University of Toledo (17-11, 8-8), leaving a crucial match against the University of Akron (14-17, 5-11) Saturday in Akron.
"We didn't want to travel Tuesday. That was our motivation," outside hitter Hannah Sullivan said.
That motivation to avoid playing on the road fueled the Cardinals and sparked one of the most collective team efforts of the season. In all, 10 Ball State players stepped up to help defeat Akron 25-21, 20-25, 25-14, 23-25, 15-9.
"Saturday night's win was not based on individual effort. It was a team effort. We all came together and won it as a team," middle blocker Jennifer Boyd said. "With all the traveling we had done this year, we wanted to avoid traveling on Tuesday. We needed to be at home in front of our fans."
Offensively, the Cardinals could not be stopped Saturday night. In the three sets Ball State won, the offense registered at least a .400 hitting percentage.
"The team fought hard for it tonight and played on a good level. It was a collective effort. We hit over .400 and had ball handling, defense and people killing the ball," coach Dave Boos said.
In all, five Cardinals posted great nights offensively in the five set battle. Kelsey Brandl, Sullivan, Charde' Phillips, Boyd, and Alisha Green were all in double digits offensively for the Cardinals. Brandl led Ball State with 16 kills while Sullivan added 14. Phillips and Boyd each chipped in 11 kills and Green finished the night with 10 kills.
Both Sullivan and setter Brittany McGinnis posted double-doubles. Sullivan came up with 18 digs to go with her 14 kills. McGinnis notched 52 assists and 11 digs while playing in the front row.
"At times, the defense really stepped forward. It was like we flipped a switch and took it to a whole new level. That nearly got us the win in set four," Boos said. "Our team made some great touches and put the ball down."
Junior libero Alyssa Rio continued her recent hot streak in the back court. Rio led the Cardinal defense with 26 digs. Kaylee Schembra added 21 digs at the defensive specialist spot.
"We wouldn't have the opportunity to kill balls if not for passing the ball. We definitely had both defense and offense tonight. Brittany was able to get good sets in and set us up for a good kill because of the defense," Boyd said.
After dropping a hard-fought fourth set to the Zips, the Cardinals struggled in the opening stages of the fifth set, trailing 4-1. Ball State rallied and regained control of the set, going on a 7-1 run to take the lead. Sullivan sparked the run with four kills, helping to lead the Cardinals throughout the final set.
"The team fought hard for it Saturday night. This was a match with a lot of emotion and I'm proud of how the team kept their composure in the fifth set," Boos said. "Again, it was a collective effort tonight, especially in fifth set. Sullivan had a great fifth set for us."
Ball State may have won the battle by defeating Akron in five sets Saturday, but the war is far from over. The two squads meet again Tuesday night at Worthen Arena as the eight and nine seeds in the MAC Tournament.
"When the chips were down, our team stepped forward like we talked about. I'm proud of that. The next match and every match will be similar," Boos said. "The nice thing is we've got momentum, winning four of five and are playing pretty good volleyball."