In order to host a Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association tournament match, No. 13 Ball State men's volleyball had to defeat No. 10 Loyola-Chicago in straight sets and win by at least 20 points.
This might have seemed like a tall order considering the Cardinals previously lost 3-0 to the Ramblers earlier this season.
But with Ball State leading two sets to none, senior setter Connor Gross got up high for a kill that gave the Cardinals an 8-4 lead and one thing started to become clear — the momentum was on the Cardinals' side this Senior Night.
Ball State would go on to lead the third set by as many as six points as they went on to sweep Loyola, 3-0 (25-21, 25-15, 25-19). With a point differential of +20, Ball State clinched home court advantage for the first round of the tournament.
"I didn't know the exact point amount but I knew that we had to beat them bad," Gross said. "We had that mindset where every point mattered and it's that mentality that helped us."
Ball State had attack percentages of over .400 in sets two and three. Ball State head coach Joel Walton said it was a product of being able to handle the Ramblers serves.
"We didn't let their serve disable our offense," Walton said. "We were able to find some holes in their defense and we kept firing and we played with a real fast intensity tonight."
Offensively, Ball State was led by freshman outside attacker Matt Szews, who finished with 14 kills, and senior outside attacker Edgardo Cartagena who finished with 12 kills and an attack percentage of .550.
Cartagena said the energy of Senior Night and the emotions behind it helped drive him to a strong performance in the victory.
"I just wanted to be able to make the atmosphere fun for my teammates and my family that was here," Cartagena said. "I'm just happy that we were able to turn things around and head into the playoffs very strong."
Walton said while it's usually the team's go-to guys that make the big plays in important matches like tonight's, it's important for role players like Cartagena to step in and play with a high intensity.
"Tonight was probably one of his career-best matches," Walton said. "He was able to step up in a key moment and and take some leadership upon himself to play a great match and that's what you need in tournament time."
The Cardinals won't have to wait long until they see the Ramblers again. Ball State will host Loyola at home next weekend in the first round of the MIVA Tournament.
"I'm very proud of them but tonight wasn't the championship," Walton said. "We still have to play like we have something to prove next weekend."