Do-or-die scenarios turn up the pressure to a whole new level. Ball State women's volleyball team has been there, done that. They're also 4-0 in five-set matches.
It wasn't always so easy. Succeeding in must-win situations was formerly the Achilles' heel for Ball State (14-3, 4-1). Two seasons ago Ball State lost a NCAA-leading seven five-set matches. Last fall the Cardinals were 2-3 in five-set matches.
Must-win situations are no longer unmanageable for Ball State as proven by three five set wins prior to the 25-23, 16-25, 26-28, 25-21, 15-10 Ball State comeback win over Toledo (5-10, 0-5).
"It was an unbelievable match tonight. It was a topsy-turvy match from start to finish with momentum swings back and forth," coach Steve Shondell said. "If you win these kinds of matches you like them, if you don't they take a toll on you mentally. It was a tremendous comeback for us tonight."
The play of senior libero Alyssa Rio, junior middle blocker Kelsey Brandl and freshman outside hitter Whitney Heeres were instrumental in the Ball State rally.
Rio recorded 32 digs, raising her nation leading average to 5.98 digs per set. Brandl posted a career high 25 kills with a .422 hitting percentage. Her previous career high was 20 kills. Heeres added 16 kills.
"They only had a single block we had to face," Brandl said. "They were focused on the outside and their middles are young. Brittany kept finding me at the right time to take advantage."
Ball State controlled much of the first set and held off Toledo to take an early 1-0 advantage. The next set belonged entirely to Toledo.
The tide began to turn Ball State's way in the third set despite falling 28-26. Ball State rallied from a 21-17 deficit to extend play beyond 25 points. See-saw action in the fourth set gave way to a late Ball State run, forcing a fifth set.
"Their slide attack was the main thing that killed us," Rio said. "That's something we have to work on. Teams are going to see that. It's hard to defend, but we have a talented enough team that we can work around it."
The final set was controlled by Ball State. The Cardinals started with a 4-1 run and was never really threatened, winning 15-10.
Becca Reidy led Toledo with 13 kills. Cassie Kleespies and Amber DeWeerdt added 12 kills each while Sondra Parys chipped in 10 kills for the Rockets. Katie Westerfield recorded 23 digs to lead Toledo's defense.
According to Shondell, Toledo played outstanding defense and frustrated Ball State by keeping the ball in play and extending rallies.
"I knew they were a good team. They beat No. 12 Michigan earlier this year," Shondell said. "If you beat a top-15 ranked team, you have a good ball club. They said they played their best match since Michigan. It was a heck of match."