Kills: Blake Reardon (14)
Assists: Jake Romano (30)
Digs: Jake Romano (14)
Aces: Jake Romano (3)
Head coach Joel Walton’s message to Ball State men’s volleyball the past couple of weeks? Consistency.
That’s what Ball State (6-7, 1-2 MIVA) had been lacking when it lost five out of its last six matches. And that’s exactly what the team found in its dominating 3-0 (25-22, 25-19, 25-20) sweep of Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association rival No. 8 Lewis (8-4, 2-1 MIVA) in its first match at home since Jan. 20.
“I think what our guys did tonight was accept the challenge of applying a lot of defensive pressure against Lewis, and as we continued to apply that pressure you saw how their attackers started to struggle,” Walton said. “The word I used in our pre-match was ‘sustain.’ We’d talked a lot about focus, but tonight I wanted them to sustain runs of points and sustain momentum.”
After being on the verge of upsetting multiple top 10 teams during their road trip, the Cardinals were able to put together a complete match in their return to the nest.
“We were all ready to play,” sophomore outside attacker Blake Reardon said. “We were just on edge the entire week. We were basically ripping each other’s heads off in practice just begging to get out here and play them.”
A tightly contested first set saw both teams battle for points until a 3-0 run by the Cardinals put them in the driver’s seat for the rest of the set. Ball State gathered a lot of momentum after a long rally saw the hosts come away with the point, causing the crowd and the bench to erupt. The Cardinals stayed unpredictable throughout the set and never let the Flyers get a read on their offense before they closed out the set with a 25-22 victory. Ball State finished the set with 13 total kills and four service aces. Sophomore setter Jake Romano had three of those aces and senior outside attacker Mitch Weiler led the way with four kills.
The second set was the Blake Reardon show. The sophomore outside attacker tallied eight kills in a set that saw the Cardinals in control for most of the way after a 4-0 run. The Cardinals would cap their largest lead of the set with the final point to seal a 25-19 victory in the second set. Ball State finished the set with 16 kills and a .278 hitting percentage as a team.
Ball State wasn’t messing around in the third set.
The Cardinals jumped out to a commanding 11-4 lead and never looked back. Everything was going right for the Cardinals. Jake Romano proved that when he looked to be going up for a set but instead tapped the ball over his shoulder for the most innovative kill of the night, energizing the crowd and his teammates in the process. The score would soar as high as 19-11 in favor of Ball State before Lewis began to mount a bit of a comeback. A 9-3 run gave the visitors some momentum and made things interesting, but it wasn’t enough. A Mitch Weiler kill and two attack errors from Lewis sealed the deal and gave Ball State the 25-20 win, completing the upset sweep of the No. 8 team in the country.
"[The win] means a lot," Reardon said. It gives us some pep in our step, and it makes us want to come back and try to beat Loyola tomorrow."
The efficiency of the team didn’t go unnoticed by Walton.
“There were a lot of different performances that really caught my eye, and I think [Reardon’s] was one,” Walton said. “For a while, he was really carrying us and hitting some big kills. Mitch Weiler just seemed like the guy all the way through the match. Plays would happen, a ball would end up going to Mitch and he would find the shot that was right for the moment.”
Overall, Reardon led the match in kills with 14 on a .250 hitting percentage. Weiler finished added a dozen kills and was the only other player in double digit kills. Jake Romano finished with a match-high 30 assists, 14 digs, three service aces and a pair of kills, including the over-the-shoulder finish in the third set. Senior middle attacker Matt Walsh showed his usual consistency, finishing with eight kills, four blocks and a .438 hitting percentage.
Ball State held Lewis to a .046 hitting percentage in the match, a season-low for the visitors. The Cardinals finished with 41-27 advantage in kills and hit .233 as a team.
“I hope what [the win] means for our guys is confidence,” Walton said. “It gives them the confidence to know they can play at a level necessary to win these types of matches. We’ve been close, so now we’ve pushed one over the top, and what we do tomorrow night against Loyola is pretty critical.”
Next up, Ball State will be back in Worthen Arena to host No. 6 Loyola-Chicago on Saturday, Feb. 17. The match is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.