It was supposed to be a match for Ball State to make a statement; a match to prepare for next week's match against Loyola; a match Ball State couldn't lose.
But sixth-seeded Quincy wasn't about to be overlooked.
After a dominating first game, Ball State fell flat in the next three and eventually lost to Quincy 3-1 (25-17, 21-25, 20-25, 24-26) Saturday in Worthen Arena in the quarterfinals match of the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association tournament.
Ball State's season takes an early end with the loss as its overall record finishes at 19-11.
"Tonight, especially, we got to a point where we were predictable," coach Joel Walton said. "In this game, you can't do that or else a good team is going to figure out where to put their defense and they're going to make the play necessary to beat you. That's what Quincy did tonight."
The Cardinals grabbed a firm control of the match in the first game, casting the Hawks aside with a quick 25-17 set. Ball State tallied six blocks to Quincy's zero in the game.
But from that point onward, the momentum shifted into Quincy's favor.
The Hawks managed to out hit the Cardinals in two of the next three games and out blocked them 13.5 to 11 in games two through four.
"We struggled in games two, three and four finding any kind of offensive rhythm for sure, and that put even more pressure on our defense. We just weren't able to come through with the plays that we needed." Walton said.
As the match wavered on, Ball State's desperation grew.
Dan Wichmann replaced Graham McIlvaine at setter. Dominic Spadavecchio came in for a struggling Larry Wrather at outside attacker. Tommy Rouse took over at libero for Marcus Imwalle.
The Cardinals failed to find success with any of their lineup changes.
Quincy managed to benefit from Marcus Imwalle playing the majority of the match at libero. After changing to his usual position of outside attacker in the fourth set, Imwalle went to the service line and immediately landed two service aces.
"The guy that played libero the first three games was the best server they have," Quincy coach Hadley Foster said on Imwalle. "That helped a ton for us, because he tore us up. There were some matchup things that helped us."
Senior middle attackers J.D. Gasparovic and Anders Nelson carried Ball State through the match.
Gasparovic ended the match with a season-high 12 blocks, including tying for a career-high four solo blocks. Nelson found his rhythm offensively, finishing with 14 kills to lead the Cardinals.
Ball State players were made unavailable for comment following the match.
For Quincy, the victory is the program's first in the MIVA tournament. It is also the first time a sixth seed has won in the tournament.
As his team moves on to face Loyola in the semifinals, Foster kept the win over Ball State in perspective.
"Volleyball is a ricochet sport, and we caught some breaks today in key moments and they didn't. That could have gone either way easily," he said.
With the conclusion of Ball State's season, Walton summed up what he thought he would take away from the 2011 men's volleyball team.
"This team showed when they got it together they could play at an extremely high level," he said. "But we were also an inconsistent team. It forced us to try different lineups through the course of the year."