After briefly stopping at home to knock off a pair of top 10 teams last weekend, No. 14 Ball State men’s volleyball is back on the road for its next seven matches, starting with Quincy on Friday and Lindenwood on Saturday.
The team’s energy has been more relaxed in this week’s practices, but head coach Joel Walton said the players can’t get too comfortable after last weekend’s victories.
“We had to work really hard and be focused and mentally prepared to play against Lewis and Loyola and play the way that we did,” Walton said. “Now that we’ve done that and we’ve achieved some success, staying in that same mentality is very important. We can’t change based on a feeling that we’ve had some success and maybe we’ve arrived where we want to be. It’s a process that you have to repeat every week.”
While fun is part of any successful team, Walton has kept the team focused by setting goals for each practice and making it known that he wants the team to work on certain things each day. With a lot of younger players on the team, Walton said that many of them have to figure out their routine and make sure the proper amount of time is devoted to studying, watching film, eating right and resting so their play on the court is effective.
Areas like that are where Walton wants to see his upperclassmen show the younger guys the way.
“If you have a set of upperclassmen that are leading by example and showing our freshmen how to manage their time, how to work their way through the week, then that becomes invaluable,” Walton said. “I think the group of guys we have right now understand the importance of this season, and they have done a good job.”
One of those key upperclassmen is senior Matt Walsh. The 6-foot-11 middle attacker enters the weekend ranked 12th in the nation with a .399 hitting percentage. Walsh is also ranked 22nd in blocks per set with 1.03. Another is senior Mitch Weiler. The outside attacker ranks fourth in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association with 103 total digs.
As a team, Ball State is first in the MIVA in numerous categories. The Cardinals lead the conference with 655 kills, 130 total team blocks, 538 digs and 611 assists. Their 9.78 digs per set ranks fifth in the nation.
Ball State leads the all-time series with Quincy by a wide margin at 48-5. Despite the lopsided series history, Walton knows that Quincy is a very capable opponent. Quincy uses a number of different personnel sets and player rotations, so knows that the team will have to be prepared for a number of different players in that and pay close attention to the team’s attackers. Anthony Winter leads Quincy with 3.29 kills per set and Shane McAdams isn’t far behind at 2.40.
Ball State’s coaching staff has been on alert for Lindenwood’s middle attackers. Connor Hipelius leads the team with a .410 hitting percentage and Michael Jennings has tallied 3.30 kills per set this season. Walton knows the quality of Lindenwood’s middle attackers will make it important for Ball State to be able to serve well and generate consistent offense to keep Lindenwood on its heels and its setters away from the net.
“At this moment, we’re back in the thick of the league race,” Walton said. “Winning road matches in conference in critical. To continue to improve our position within the conference standings, you need to build confidence, which we want to be doing with this team, so this weekend’s matches are critical, so we need the guys to step on the court and perform well and play with the determination it’s going to take to win on the road.”
Friday’s match is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Saturday’s match against Lindenwood will start at 7:30 p.m.