The top 10 competition keeps coming for Ball State men’s volleyball.
After falling in five sets at No. 5 Ohio State and No. 9 Penn State in each of the past two weeks, Ball State (5-7, 0-2 MIVA) will return to Worthen Arena for the first time since Jan. 20 when the team faces a pair of Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association foes in No. 8 Lewis and No. 6 Loyola-Chicago. When the weekend concludes, Ball State will have faced five of the current top 10 teams in the nation.
“The fact that we’re playing in an arena that our guys are used to and that other teams aren’t as used to, I think that’s our big advantage,” head coach Joel Walton said. “We have to play well at home in our league. That’s just critical.”
The Cardinals have fared much better at home than on the road this season. Four of their five wins on the year have come inside Worthen Arena.
After losing to Ohio State in heartbreaking fashion and to McKendree in four sets last weekend, Walton admits there has been a different kind of energy in practice.
“The honest answer would be tense,” Walton said. “The guys are not happy with how things have been going. It’s natural when you’re a competitor and things haven’t gone your way recently. You’re doing some soul-searching; you’re looking at your teammates; you’re looking at a lot of different things to try to get back on track.”
For the team, putting together strings of solid play has been one of the primary issues. In Ball State’s seven losses, the team has won the first set four times.
“We’re struggling to play consistently,” Walton said. “We’re putting ourselves in position to win games, and we’ve lost a few close games. And we’ve put ourselves in positions to win matches too and we’ve let the matches slip away as well.”
For the team’s matchup against Lewis (8-3, 2-0 MIVA), getting the ball past its block will be key for Ball State. The Flyers enter the week ranked second in team blocks per set with 2.72. Walton said that keeping Lewis’ block honest will start with his team’s ability to handle its serve and put Ball State’s setters in position to run an efficient offense near the net. Eighth-ranked Lewis will enter Friday’s contest riding an eight-match winning streak.
Sixth-ranked Loyola-Chicago (9-2, 2-0 MIVA) enters the weekend on a seven-match winning streak. Freshman Garrett Zolg comes into the weekend as one of the best in the nation at setting his teammates up for kills. The setter is 11th in the country in assists per set at 9.97.
Senior Jeff Jendryk has been one of the most efficient attackers in the nation for Loyola-Chicago. The middle blocker is ranked third nationally with a .481 hitting percentage. Walton called Jendryk, who has trained with the U.S. men’s national team, a dynamic and physical player.
Ball State will look to get back on track at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Lewis. The match against Loyola-Chicago is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday.