After Ball State's 3-0 loss to then-No. 1 Ohio State on Feb. 2, Ball State men's volleyball senior outside attacker Brendan Surane said, "I think there's no way in hell we can't beat them the next time we play them."
This Saturday, Surane and the No. 11 Cardinals get their rematch against the No. 2 Buckeyes.
"I'd love to see Surane get on track," Ball State head coach Joel Walton said. "He's been one of the guys we were trying to rest and limit his reps last week just to get his body refreshed."
Walton said he would like to see his team play "focused and competitive" in its final two road Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association matches of the season. The Cardinals (15-6, 6-4 MIVA) will travel to Lebanon, Illinois, Thursday for a battle with the McKendree Bearcats (7-16, 2-8 MIVA) and then head to Columbus, Ohio, for a match against the Ohio State (21-1, 10-0 MIVA).
In its 3-0 (25-16, 25-21, 25-16) win against McKendree on Feb. 4, Ball State finished with an attack percentage of .430 — the team's second best mark of the season. Walton said McKendree's environment and the lineup the Bearcats choose to use could make this difficult to repeat.
"McKendree has been difficult the last couple of years because their starting lineup has shifted," Walton said. "They're a capable team. They ball control really well and they have a couple of players that demand your attention."
Two of those players are senior middle blocker Wyatt Patterson and senior opposite Maalik Walker.
Walton described Patterson as "one of the best offensive players in our conference" and said Walker is able to hit a variety of shots that can be difficult to defend.
"He can hit a ball down the line, he can hit a ball sharp across the court and he can hit a ball anywhere between," Walton said. "You have to look at some of the cues that he has as he's getting ready to line up and attack the ball to see what type of shot he's going to hit."
The Cardinals will wrap up their conference road schedule against the Buckeyes. After their 3-0 loss (27-29, 19-25, 22-25) on Feb. 2, the Cardinals finished with an attack percentage of .314, which was the highest in their six losses on the season. Walton said a key to getting in an early rhythm against the Buckeyes is to be able to handle their serve.
"You may not be able to pass every ball exactly where you want it to go, but it still has to be a pass on your side of the net where you can get some attack options," Walton said. "They're putting a good amount of pace on their serve and they can vary where they locate it, which can make it difficult for your passers to get in rhythm."
The Cardinals will be looking to slow down Ohio State's offensive weapons including senior opposite Miles Johnson and junior outside attacker Nicolas Szerszen — the two combined for 32 of Ohio State's 47 kills in their win at Worthen Arena in February.
"The best way to slow them down is to do a good job with our serve and get their setter off the net and put pressure on them by how we're putting the ball in play," Walton said.
Walton said that just like any other team, Ohio State is beatable — and he is confident the Cardinals can hand the Buckeyes their second loss of the season.
"You have to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves and you have to play a good match in order to compete with them," Walton said. "But what I want to see more than anything is our guys stepping on the court with a mentality and an attitude that we're going to win this match."