With a spot in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association tournament clinched, No. 12 Ball State men's volleyball has its eyes set on the next goal — being able to play one of those tournament matches at Worthen Arena.
Ball State is currently fifth in the MIVA standings and is a game behind Loyola-Chicago for fourth — only the top four seeds will get to host a quarterfinal match on their home court.
The Cardinals (15-8, 6-6 MIVA) will wrap up the season with four home conference matches, beginning this weekend with matches against the Quincy Hawks (6-18, 1-11 MIVA) on Friday and the Lindenwood Lions (4-15, 3-9 MIVA) on Saturday. Ball State has already defeated both teams on the road.
Head coach Joel Walton said offense and effort are the things his team is most focused on this weekend.
"I want to see our guys get into a rhythm offensively and that starts with being able to handle the serves that the other team is giving us," Walton said.
In its first match against Quincy this season, Ball State finished with an attack percentage of .506, which was its highest this year. Walton attributed much of the offensive success to the handling of Quincy's float serves but said Quincy's serving strategy may change with interim coach Bob Crank at the helm.
"We might see some guys begin to do spin serves instead of only float serves," Walton said. "We know that they're capable of doing that and we have to be ready to handle that as a potential wrinkle in their game plan."
In the first match between the two teams, freshman outside attacker Matt Szews had arguably one of his best performances of the season, finishing the match with 16 kills, four service aces and an attack percentage of .577. However, Szews has had attack percentages below .100 in Ball State's last two matches against McKendree and No. 1 Ohio State, and Walton believes these two upcoming matches could help "The Big Cheese" get back on the right track.
"It's a little about timing and how he starts his approach and his understanding of how [senior setter Connor Gross] is going to deliver the ball to him," Walton said. "We've leaned awfully hard on [Szews] this season — he's taken 683 swings, which is a pretty significant load."
Szews 683 swings are over 100 more than senior outside attacker Brendan Surane, who is second on the team with 527 total attempts.
Ball State will wrap up the weekend with a match against Lindenwood. In the first meeting between the two teams, senior opposite Ryan Moore and senior outside hitter Jake Duckworth combined for 27 of the team's 54 kills. Along with those two players, there are two other Lions who stuck out to Walton while scouting.
One of them is junior outside hitter Michael Chard, who has 70 kills and 10 service aces on the season.
"He can be a high air guy who takes a big rip at the ball," Walton said. "If you allow him to hit the shots that he wants to hit then he can get some kills, you've got to do a good job of blocking it and slowing him down."
Another player to watch for is Lions freshman middle blocker Sam Schindler. Schindler, who had seven kills in the first match, also leads the team with 25 service aces and 74 total blocks.
"He is an attacker that gets to the gaps in the block and is able to throw the ball around a little," Walton said. "He can be difficult if you're not willing to make the effort in the back row."
If the Cardinals focus on effort and offense this weekend, Walton said the rest will take care of itself.
"I think both of those things can tie into a good start," Walton said. "That should be able to help us work the match and play the game that we want to play."