After winning the opening set, Ball State men’s volleyball was unable to find much of a rhythm on the way to a 3-1 (25-19, 21-25, 24-26, 17-25) defeat at the hands of Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association foe McKendree (4-6, 2-1 MIVA).
“Our team is struggling to play consistently,” head coach Joel Walton said. “When you’re not playing consistently, and when things start to go in a direction that’s not positive, some of the earlier losses — some of the moments you’ve had that you let get away — those memories come flooding in.”
Ball State (5-7, 0-2 MIVA) had the look of the team that was trying to right the ship in the first game, coming out aggressive and on the attack.
The first set started out close until Ball State found the first big run of the match, going on a 4-1 scoring spurt to take a 15-12 lead. After the run, McKendree never recaptured the lead. The Bearcats didn’t go down without a fight, but the Cardinals were able to close out the opening set with a 25-19 win. Sophomore setter Jake Romano was setting his teammates up for success in the first set, tallying 13 assists and complementing that with eight digs. Senior middle attacker Matt Walsh picked up right where he left off last match, earning three kills and an ace in the first game. Sophomore outside attacker Matt Szews led the team with five kills in game one.
The second set was tightly contested. Both teams exchanged points until McKendree found some breathing room with two straight points, giving the team a 17-15 lead over Ball State. The two-point swing was all McKendree needed to maintain the lead for the rest of the set. Ball State would stay within striking distance, but McKendree eventually closed out the set by a score of 25-21.
The third set started out like a nightmare for the Cardinals. The Bearcats kept piling on the points and eventually led by as many as seven. Ball State continued to fight, rattling off a long 10-3 scoring run to tie up the set at 23. Despite having lost all of the momentum, McKendree was able to escape the set with a 26-24 win courtesy of a block by Brendan Schmidt and Pasquale Fiduccia, closing out a heartbreaking set for Ball State.
“We had a chance to win game three,” Walton said. “We fought really hard to get back in that game. Letting that game get away felt like it just sucked whatever energy we had left out of us.”
The Bearcats rode that momentum into the fourth set.
Ball State grabbed the first point of the set, but McKendree would then rattle off three straight points and never trail again. The Cardinals were able to tie the game at 5-5 after a block by junior middle attacker Parker Schwartz and freshman outside hitter Ben Chinnici, but McKendree responded with a 4-0 scoring burst and keep Ball State at an arm’s length the rest of the way. The Bearcats would continue to stretch the lead before they closed out the match with a Jared Wilcox kill, giving the Bearcats a 25-17 win in the final set.
“Our passers got a little bit tentative,” Walton said. “We started leaving the ball five to 10 feet off — or even 15 feet off — and then expecting our outside attackers to have to terminate with a good block in front of them.”
One of the differences in the match was the ability to execute attacks. McKendree had just 14 attack errors while Ball State totaled 27. The Cardinals were unable to find consistency on the way to a .149 hitting percentage as a team. The block of McKendree was effective all night, racking up 26 total team blocks.
Walsh led the team with a .312 hitting percentage on the night, but didn’t record a single block, which was unexpected for a player that entered the weekend ranked 10th in the nation in blocks per set. Sophomore outside attacker Blake Reardon led the team in kills with 13 on 43 attempts.
Jared Wilcox led McKendree with a match-high 16 kills on a .371 hitting percentage. Zach Thompson led the match in digs with 16.
“Right now, we need everything, every little thing that we can gather up that’s going to help us play better,” Walton said. “Being at home next weekend, we want to use the energy of our home crowd, make sure our guys show up and give the crowd something to rally behind.”
Ball State will have six days off to try to iron out the kinks before hosting Lewis University in its first home match since Jan. 20. That match will start at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 16.