What does a team do when it has no film or much familiarity with an opponent?
“They just need to step on the court and take care of things on our side and then as we familiarize ourselves with Sacred Heart, be able to adjust through the course of those games,” head men’s volleyball coach Joel Walton said.
The Cardinals will have to do just that this weekend as they take on Sacred Heart on Friday and Harvard on Saturday. Neither of the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association opponents has played a game yet this season, so Walton knows his team needs to work on what it can control and be ready for whatever is thrown its way.
“It is a challenge, it’s not anything that our team is incapable of dealing with,” Walton said.
Sacred Heart is especially unfamiliar after graduating five seniors from its roster. Coming off one of its best seasons since 2010 with a record of 15-11 and making the EIVA tournament, the Pioneers were picked to finish seventh in the conference.
One player Sacred Heart didn’t lose was senior Joshua Ayzenberg. The libero averaged 2.92 digs per set last season, which led the EIVA and ranked second in the NCAA.
The Cardinals will have some film of Harvard by Saturday as the Pioneers play their first match of the season on Friday night just up the interstate at Fort Wayne. Walton knows Harvard will bring a proficient offense to town.
Stopping the offense is one area the Cardinals struggled with in their two home losses last weekend to BYU and Stanford.
“One of the areas that we struggled with against Stanford was affecting their offense with our serve,” Walton said.
Ball State had a .842 serve percentage but Stanford counteracted with a .958 serve receive percentage.
A new challenge arises with one of the best setters in the EIVA on the other side of the net. Last season, senior Marko Kostich was named to the ALL-EIVA second team. Averaging 4.95 assists per set, Kostich currently ranks fifth in Harvard’s record book in assists with 1,691.
Having not yet faced a setter with Kostich’s capabilities, the Cardinals will have to play better.
“When he [setter] is in a good position it makes it very easy to distribute to a number of different places on the court,” Walton said. “Because he is a good setter, one of the things we can do to slow him down is to put pressure on their passers.”
In only the third week of play this season the Cardinals are already facing injury woes. Walton said senior middle attacker Matt Walsh and sophomore outside attacker Matt Szews are both limited at practice this week.
Junior outside hitter David Siebum is battling a long-term back injury and is undergoing testing this week.
“He might be able to come back to us, he might be shut down for a week, he might be shut down for a month, he might be done for the season,” Walton said.
Still, Walton said he just wants his team to keep working and get back on the right track this weekend.
“Their energy has been good," Walton said. "I think for all of us we need to keep working and trying to fix things. Healing however won’t happen until we actually have that chance to play a match.”
Both matches are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Worthen Arena.
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