WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Ball State pays for playing on the edge
Cardinals lose for the first time in five sets this season
For four matches Ball State had lived dangerously. Four times in the 2010 season the women's volleyball team had gone to the edge. Four times Ball State came back with a win.
The Cardinals weren't as lucky the fifth time they went to five sets.
Ball State lost to Buffalo on the road Sunday 28-26, 20-25, 25-19, 19-25, 15-13. It was the first time the Bulls beat the Cardinals in 15 tries.
"We put ourselves in position to win. We fought back after being down two games to one," coach Steve Shondell said. "Maybe we got too excited that things were going to fall into place and didn't earn it. It's a tough one to lose."
Tough defense, Ball State's forte, made kills difficult to come by. Each team blocked and dug the ball well. Ball State (14-4, 4-2 Mid-American Conference) finished with a .106 hitting percentage. Buffalo had a .130 hitting percentage.
The Bulls (14-8, 2-4) won the blocking game 15-12 while the Cardinals won the digging battle 91-89.
"We hit the ball into the block a few times. Unforced errors on our side let them back into it," freshman outside hitter Whitney Heeres said. "It's disappointing because we were so close. We have to keep our focus and finish the match. We just can't expect to win."
Senior Alyssa Rio recorded 27 digs to pace all defenders. The 5.4 digs per set average knocked her nation-leading average down to 5.94.
There were other silver linings in the loss.
Senior defensive specialist and outside hitter Hannah Sullivan had a career-high 23 digs in her strongest defensive outing of the season. Her previous high of 21 came during her freshman season at Houston.
"I feel like I did OK, but we still lost. When you lose a match, it takes away from [career highs]," Sullivan said. "A loss is a loss. We could have had it. Now I'm on an eight-hour bus ride where all I can do is think about it."
Heeres provided the other bright spot. Heeres led all players with a career-high 19 kills. Junior middle blocker Kelsey Brandl was the only other Cardinal in double-digits with 12.
With the loss, Ball State fell a game out of first place in the MAC West. Northern Illinois leads the division with a 5-1 record.