WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Regular season title clinched, Ball State focuses on final game
Cardinals hope to finish season undefeated at home
Most of the lights were off in Worthen Arena and it was nearly silent. Only the scuffles of the facilities crew were heard as they set up for the women's basketball game to take place Friday evening.
Coach Steve Shondell sat on the bench, where he had stood just an hour prior watching his team win the first Mid-American Conference regular season championship since 2002. It was a moment of solitude and reflection for a legendary high school volleyball coach who added another championship to his impressive resume.
"We never really talked about the MAC championship on the line tonight," Shondell said. "It was just business as usual even though there were implications for the MAC Tournament in play. We wanted to treat it as naturally as possible and let the media and fans handle the implications."
Shondell and the rest of the Ball State women's volleyball team (23-4, 13-2) knew the great feeling of being regular season champions would last only hours. There would be more work to do.
"Tomorrow we rest, recover, and practice," junior middle blocker Kelsey Brandl said. "We've got a lot of work to get done. We still have the challenge of Akron and winning the MAC Tournament ahead of us."
The Cardinals returned to earth quickly, having a practice Friday morning to prepare for their final regular season test. All that stands between Ball State and a perfect 12-0 record at home is Akron.
It won't be easy to contend with Akron. The Zips are the only school in the MAC the Cardinals haven't played in 2010 and they will be out for revenge. It was Ball State that ended Akron's season last year. First the Cardinals went to Akron and knocked the Zips off in five sets, then swept them a handful of days later at Worthen Arena in the first round of the MAC Tournament.
"We just need to keep doing what we do," junior setter Brittany McGinnis said. "We need to be calm, focused, and continue to have our leaders step up as they have all year."
In the grand scheme, going undefeated at home may seem like a minor accomplishment, but only 18 teams in the nation entered the weekend with undefeated marks at home. For Ball State, finishing an undefeated season at home would be bigger.
The home winning streak would extend to 14 straight and be tied for the fourth longest in program history. The record is 42-straight wins at Worthen Arena. That streak started in September of 1999 and was snapped in November 2001.
Now that the top seed is secured in the MAC Tournament, Ball State's new mission is to position themselves to win it. A win over Akron won't necessarily help with that, but it can help with Ball State's push to be considered for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"Beating Akron gives us the chance to break into the 30s in the RPI," Shondell said. "It would help toward being considered for an At-Large bid. I feel we deserve one."
Ball State will also have a pregame ceremony for senior night in honor of all five seniors. Alyssa Rio, Hannah Sullivan, Charde' Phillips, Karin Caudill, Alexis Shonkwiler will all be honored for their contributions to the team. Shonkwiler has chosen to graduate on time without using her final year of eligibility.