No. 14 Ball State men’s volleyball ended a weekend full of errors and inconsistency by losing its first match to an unranked opponent this season.
After taking the first set and seeming to have gathered some momentum, the Cardinals fell flat and dropped the next three sets to cap off a forgettable weekend with a 3-1 (25-23, 20-25, 19-25, 22-25) loss, their second in as many days.
“We played a good first game again and then just kind of got flat in the middle of the match,” head coach Joel Walton said. “We had moments where we were playing okay, but we didn’t sustain very good offense and our defense became ineffective. We allowed George Mason to become a pretty confident team.”
The first set saw both teams exchange blows until Ball State (4-4) went on a 3-0 scoring run to give itself a 9-5 lead early on. After a second 3-0 run by Ball State that put the score at 19-13, George Mason (3-5) got the score as close as 21-19 late in the first set, with the help of a couple of Ball State errors and some kills of its own.
Ball State wouldn’t get rattled after George Mason narrowed the gap. The Cardinals closed out the set with a kill from senior middle attacker Matt Walsh and a George Mason attack error to take the early lead with a 25-23 victory.
The next two sets were not kind to Ball State.
George Mason jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead, never trailing the entire set. Ball State was able to get the set within one point, but George Mason didn’t relinquish its lead. A 3-0 run by the Patriots would prove to be too much for the Cardinals to overcome, putting the deficit at 16-10 with the Cardinals on the wrong end.
Ball State would cut the lead down to 24-20 late in the set, but George Mason was able to capitalize on its set-clinching opportunity and sophomore opposite hitter Hayden Wagner would get the deciding kill for a 25-20 George Mason win in set two.
“Matt Walsh, for whatever reason, was just really uncomfortable tonight and made some attack errors,” Walton said. “That was pretty frustrating because he’s been a guy who has played consistently for us and we really needed him to be on fire tonight and he wasn’t.
“[Matt] Szews is a guy who hasn’t played as comfortable this year as he was playing last year and we just see him struggling with serving errors and attacking errors, so that’s something else we have to get figured out.”
In the third set, the teams traded points until the score was knotted at 10. George Mason would then go on a 6-0 scoring run to capture a lead it would not give up for the rest of the set. Errors would prove to be the downfall for the Cardinals in the third set. The Cardinals finished with a combined 10 errors in set three on the way to a 25-19 defeat in the third.
The fourth set turned out to be much like the first with both teams trading points for much of the way. Ball State looked to have some momentum back on its side after a 3-0 run gave it a 12-9 lead, but George Mason responded with a 3-0 run of its own to even things up at 12 apiece.
With the score knotted at 20, George Mason went on another crucial 3-0 scoring run to seize the momentum behind two kills from redshirt senior outside hitter Christian Malias, who finished with a career-high 18 kills. Ball State couldn’t overcome the deficit, falling 25-22 in the deciding fourth set.
Much like the loss against Pepperdine on Jan. 27, Ball State’s errors were too much for the team to overcome. The Cardinals finished with 23 attack errors and 16 service errors to just two service aces. George Mason finished with seven service aces and 28 total blocks. Ball State finished the match with 17 total blocks.
For Ball State, sophomore outside attacker Matt Szews led the way in kills with 13, while sophomore outside attacker Blake Reardon and senior outside attacker Mitch Weiler each had a dozen. Walsh led the team in blocks with one solo and three block assists.
Coach Walton hasn’t ruled out making some changes to the team’s defense as it hasn’t executed up to its potential recently.
“We’re talking as a staff about changing a couple of ways that we have been playing defense,” Walton said. “When you have some younger players on the court, an overall understanding of defense becomes more difficult.”
Ball State will have the week to decide on what changes it will make as its next match will be at No. 8 Penn State on Friday, Feb. 2. The opening serve is scheduled for 7 p.m.