The 2015 NCAA men’s volleyball championship was the first time two teams from the same conference, other than the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, played in the championship.

Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association rivals Loyola and Lewis played in the conference championship that year.

Ball State head coach Joel Walton began coaching at his alma mater 17 years ago, he said "last year was the best the MIVA has ever been."

MIVA Teams Ranked in NCAA

No. 2 Ohio State

No. 10 Loyola

No. 11 Ball State

No. 12 Lewis

*Grand Canyon received votes on two or more ballots for the AVCA Divsion l-ll polls

This year’s MIVA tournament is structured a little differently, as neither Loyola or Lewis are in the top spot. The top-four MIVA teams all boast at least 10 conference wins coming into the tournament.

The accelerated level of competition from Midwest teams has been a trend in recent years, but as a conference, the MIVA has only won three national championships in its existence.

All three of those have come in the past five years.

Since an NCAA men’s volleyball championship has existed, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation has dominated the championship, taking home 34 trophies. The Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association has two titles, both from Penn State.

Walton said programs on the West Coast used to have the ability to convince the best players to enroll at their schools because of “their superior level of competition.”

“That argument kind of held water until the last seven or eight years,” Walton said. “A lot of the players from the Midwest are choosing to stay home. … The level of play in [the MIVA] be just as good as the MSPF.”

From a younger age, kids from the Midwest have played and traveled on national teams to play West Coast competition. This slowly began to even the playing field over time.

Still, West Coast teams were getting more support from their athletic departments, making it hard for teams in the MIVA to keep up.

That’s when Walton decided to take action.

About 10 years ago, he created a resource comparison worksheet that was shared among the coaches in the conference.

Information on the sheet included: budget, scholarship allotment, ideal roster size, coaches’ salaries/benefits and bonus structures, among other things.

Walton, like other coaches in the MIVA at the time, was frustrated with the Athletic Departments' expectations to win since they didn’t know how the team’s lack of resources affected its ability to compete.

“I wanted [Ball State] to see how underfunded we were compared to the rest of the teams in the league and yet how competitive we were still able to be,” Walton said.

Once the university's administration was more aware of Walton’s struggles, it began to take funding into men’s volleyball more seriously, and other MIVA schools followed suit.

“[The MIVA] has seen the benefit of having that information available to the coaches and administrators,” Walton said. “Every team in our league has had growth and has had movement in the resources that they’re being provided.”

Having this information available made it harder for teams to excel past each other within the conference, but has caused an increase in non-conference success.

Walton said that competition is something men’s volleyball needs in order to grow as a collegiate sport.

The 43rd MIVA tournament will decide which team will represent the Midwest in the upcoming NCAA Championship Tournament.

Quarterfinal matchups of the tournament will be played from April 15-17 at the higher seeds home site. No. 3 Ball State plays host to No. 6 McKendree at 7:30 p.m. on April 16.