In a battle of Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association powerhouses, No. 11 Ball State (13-10, 6-3 MIVA) was plagued by attacking errors as it fell to No. 6 Loyola-Chicago (18-4, 8-1 MIVA) in straight sets (21-25, 20-25, 27-29).
"I felt like our team was focused and relaxed," head coach Joel Walton said. "It wasn't that hostile of a playing environment. We just let some opportunities get away."
The opening set started with little separation between the two teams. There may have been some nerves coming into the top-tier matchup because both teams began with some sloppy play. Ball State finished with four service errors and 11 attacking errors, while Loyola finished with six service errors and three attacking errors. There were a dozen ties in the set before Loyola was able to pull away and close it out, 25-21, with a 3-0 run. Blake Reardon had a strong showing for Ball State, finishing with five kills in the opening set. Three different Ramblers finished the opener with three kills.
The second game began in much of the same fashion as the first. The hosts were able to hold a slight edge over Ball State until the media timeout. After play resumed, the Ramblers added to their lead, building a 5-0 run to take a 19-13 lead in the second game. Ball State struggled to find its way back from that hole, eventually falling, 25-20. At the half, Ball State was haunted by attacking errors, heading to the locker room with 15 and just a .120 hitting percentage.
"In game two, they just served us off the court," Walton said. "They served some really good balls, and in game two, our serve didn't affect their passers much at all. They were running their offense in a very comfortable spot."
The block of Loyola was one of the bigger differences in the match. Through two sets, the Ramblers boasted six team blocks to just one for Ball State. Reardon and Matt Walsh were two bright spots for the Cardinals, finishing the first two sets with seven and five kills, respectively. Garrett Zolg had the No. 6 Ramblers amped up through two sets, showing a lot of emotion throughout when things started going in Loyola’s favor. Ricky Gevis led the Ramblers with seven kills and an efficient .700 hitting percentage at halftime.
The third set was a battle.
Ball State had a nightmarish start to the third set. Loyola leapt out to a 7-2 start to take complete control, but Ball State wasn’t going down without a fight. Ball State responded with a 15-8 run to take a two-point lead midway through the game. Loyola continued to battle on its home court, quickly coming back with a 5-1 spurt to take a 20-18 lead. The Cardinals went on another run of their own in the back-and-forth battle for first place in the conference, eventually reaching set point on two separate occasions. Loyola wouldn’t let the visitors extend the match, though, eventually finishing off Ball State in overtime, 29-27, to earn the sweep and keep its spot atop the MIVA.
"We had some game point swings, and we just didn't terminate them," Walton said. "Mitch Weiler struggled tonight, but we kept setting balls to Mitch, and he was matched up with a really good blocker for Loyola, and actually it was [Jeff] Jendryk who played for the [U.S.] National Team this last summer, so that's a pretty physically imposing block to have in front of anybody."
The match had the feel of going in Loyola’s favor throughout the night. One instance that summed up the night is when Ricky Gevis ripped a serve that deflected off the net to Ball State’s right side, falling perfectly in play at a gap in the visitors’ defense for a service ace. Gevis led the hosts with 10 kills to go along with a .556 hitting percentage.
Overall, Matt Szews led the match with 12 kills and a pair of service aces. Walsh and Reardon were tied for second on the team with seven apiece. Jake Romano led the team with 34 assists. The biggest downfall for the Cardinals came from attacking errors, finishing with 26 to just 11 for the Ramblers. The wall of Loyola was a problem for Ball State as it finished with 7.5 total team blocks.
Next up for Ball State, it will travel to Lewis for a match with the 10th-ranked Flyers.
"We've got to play more consistently, and some of it's going to be mentality," Walton said. "We have an opportunity to finish strong here in-conference. We have to take advantage of it. All five matches that we have left, and we can't continue to give matches away."
The match is slated to start at 8 p.m.