Hidden underneath a reserved personality is a driven mind.
When Ball State outside attacker Matt Sutherland came to college, head men’s volleyball coach Joel Walton didn’t know how to help Sutherland come out of his shell.
Walton turned to Sutherland’s club coach for guidance.
“You need let him go and let him know you have confidence in him,” the club coach told Walton. “You have to put him out on the court and give him chances and there will be times he’ll do some absolutely spectacular things.”
On Saturday, the junior set a career-high in kills against Lees-McRae with 11. Less than 24 hours later, he set a new career-high with 13 kills against Harvard.
Walton describes him as quiet and laid back, but Sutherland wasn’t shy when describing what he saw in the Harvard defense that allowed him to have a career game.
“We had problems with their middles, so we did the best we could pinching up,” he said. “Once we fixed that, it helped us take control. We watched a lot of video and tried to close out against their outsides.”
With him taking sizable steps forward this season, Walton said some of Sutherland’s activities off the court have been the most beneficial.
Last summer, he worked as a camp counselor and taught children how to water-ski. The rigorous physical activity strengthened his body and helped build stamina.
“Something about his summer activities got him back to Ball State in very good shape,” Walton said.
After returning to Ball State, Sutherland enrolled in different aquatics classes that have helped increase muscle in his legs and arms, allowing him to attack better.
The classes sometimes interfered with volleyball practice during the fall. On multiple occasions, he’s either had to leave practice early or completely missed it in order to attend the aquatics classes.
If the classes are helping Sutherland improve his physicality, Walton doesn’t see a problem with it and also thinks the extra time Sutherland has spent in the weight room is beneficial.
“For a volleyball player, if you can jump and inch or two higher, that’s significant,” Walton said. “It feels like you’re flying. And when you see him in the weight room, he’s putting up some ridiculous weights.”
The added strength has paid off this season. He’s seen increased playing time, and it has resulted in career-highs across the board, including 78 kills, 64 digs and 26 block assists in 42 sets.
He’s a part of a three-man rotation that includes Larry Wrather and Shane Witmer. The three take pressure off each other and one can be inserted if another is struggling.
Sutherland started against IPFW, but he was pulled for Wrather, who ended up helping lead Ball State to victory.
Later that week, Wrather started against Harvard but struggled and hit -.750 on just four attempts. He was quickly pulled for Sutherland, who went on to have a career night.
“Sometimes, you get into a situation where a player isn’t performing very well,” Walton said. “You have the opportunity to try someone else and have the option of putting them on the court.”
Every one of Sutherland’s 13 kills against Harvard was needed. The team won in five sets, taking the fifth in overtime 16-14.