MEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Ball State uses mental toughness to beat IPFW

Outside attackers Larry Wrather and Shane Witmer celebrate a point for Ball State after a volley with Sacred Heart during the Jan. 11 match in Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO COREY OHLENKAMP
Outside attackers Larry Wrather and Shane Witmer celebrate a point for Ball State after a volley with Sacred Heart during the Jan. 11 match in Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO COREY OHLENKAMP

When the final kill fell Tuesday night, one of the loudest teams in the conference was silent.

Ball State knocked off IPFW 19-25, 25-18, 25-19 and 25-23. The win was partly due to the metal strength Ball State exhibited against IPFW, who usually loves to get a rise out of its opponents.

“We’ve had scuffles with them before,” Ball State middle attacker Matt Leske said. “We know what they do so we just control our side of the net. If we feed them, then they’re going to use it against us and they’ll just keep going.”

When the visiting Mastodons jumped out to an early lead in the first set, the bench roared loud enough for the entire stadium to hear. The team has different celebrations for the various ways they earn points.

IPFW’s celebrations can also involve over-the-top demonstrations that mock what its opponent did wrong.

It’s all part of the physiological game that takes place during matches. If IPFW can get Ball State out of its comfort zone and mentally shake the players, winning the match becomes easier.

It’s up to Ball State to not let it affect them.

“It’s pretty obvious what’s going on, they use it as a part of their game,” Leske said. “They feed off it and they like to get involved in it so we have to do our best to stay away from that stuff.”

As the match progressed and swung in Ball State’s favor, IPFW began to quiet. Players didn’t do as much talking through the net as the Cardinals began taking control of the game.

Outside attacker Larry Wrather sent an attack over the net, hitting an IPFW player in the chest and ricocheting out of bounds.

Nobody would have blamed Wrather if he had thrown a few words at IPFW after the play, but instead he grinned and walked back to serve, never opening his mouth to talk trash.

“If you’re doing a lot of talking through the net, you’re actually fueling their fire,” Ball State head coach Joel Walton said. “They want you to be distracted and by keeping the energy on our side we can be successful.”

The distractions can so effective that Walton discusses them when mentally preparing his team as the match approaches, so they know how to handle it.

“That was part of our game plan and we did a nice job of it tonight,” Walton said. “We didn’t get lured into chatting, even staring and celebrating, we brought all the energy back on our side.”

The team had stayed quiet, controlled, and mentally stable for nearly two hours and it was time to let it out.

When Wrather’s final attack dropped on IPFW’s side, the team let out the emotion building through four sets. Wrather let out a yell that could be heard for miles as he was engulfed in a hug from libero David Ryan Vander Meer before the rest of the team gathered around him.

That’s what happens after finishing a season sweep of one of the team’s biggest rivals.

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