WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Ball State, Shondell get signature win against Ohio
Ball State's victory against Ohio on Friday night provided coach Steve Shondell with a signature win for the women's volleyball program. It was also a statement win after an increased sense of urgency in practice.
"We knew we were going to have to have great performances from everyone," Shondell said. "Everyone knew they had to bring their A game to beat Ohio."
The win also ended a torturous 11-match losing streak to Ohio (12-8, 4-3) that plagued Ball State for seven years. In the bigger picture, Ball State (15-4, 5-2) also kept pace with Western Michigan (14-6, 5-2) for second place behind Northern Illinois (20-2, 6-1) in the Mid-American Conference West Division.
No match in recent memory meant more to Ball State either.
The opportunities were there in the past, but Ball State couldn't cash in on them. Ball State lost 3-0 to No. 1 USC in 2003. Other chances against top-25 ranked teams came and went. The only win Ball State recorded over a ranked opponent since 2002 came in 2003, a 3-2 thriller over no. 17 Louisville.
The last shot at a ranked opponent came in the season opener against No. 19 Purdue last season. It ended in a 3-0 loss and injuries to then juniors Hannah Sullivan and Alyssa Rio.
Things just seemed to go wrong, spoiling Ball State's chances.
Then came Ohio on Friday night; one last chance for the seniors to beat Ohio. They made the most of the opportunity with a 25-14, 22-25, 25-21, 21-25, 15-9 win.
"This is a huge win [over Ohio]," Rio said. "It proves we're changing and we're turning this program around."
Ohio, while not the dominant team the MAC has grown accustomed to in the last decade, has remained a top team in the conference. The Bobcats were the preseason pick to win the MAC Tournament.
Ohio entered Friday night's match 74th in the RPI and in second place of the MAC East, poised to make a run at Akron for the top spot.
Everyone on the roster, starter to reserve, wanted to beat Ohio. Shondell noted the focus and intensity of all 16 players and the coaching staff all week and in game. He knew how much the match meant. His players knew too.
"This is a big deal for our seniors," freshman outside hitter Kylee Baker said. "Wins like this rub off on the freshmen and gives us the confidence that we can do this again."
Ball State's toppling of Ohio helps validate the program as a legitimate contender in the MAC. It also signifies the revitalization of a program that once dominated the MAC like Ohio has recently.
"There's tons of parody in the MAC this year," Ohio coach Eric Theis said. "It's terrific for our conference and makes for fun environments. It's a battle every night."