Spring break is often thought of as a time to soak up the sun, find some coastal waters and relax on the beach. For No. 11 Ball State men’s volleyball, a 10-day trip to the West Coast means one thing — playing volleyball.
The Cardinals will get a break from their Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association schedule as they travel 2,000 miles west to California for four matches, three of which will come against ranked opponents.
With Ball State playing against less familiar opponents in UC San Diego, No. 13 Concordia Irvine, No. 4 UC Irvine and No. 15 UC Santa Barbara, head coach Joel Walton said that preparation will be especially important.
“Video is going to be very important for our guys this week with all four matches,” Walton said. “One thing that will help us a bit with [UC] San Diego [and] with [UC] Irvine is that we played both of those teams last year. Concordia Irvine and [UC] Santa Barbara we haven’t played in a period of time, so those teams are going to be new to us.”
While Walton knows it’ll be a different challenge to prepare for out-of-conference competition, he said finding similar styles of play between the upcoming opponents and past foes could make the adjustment easier on his players.
One of the bigger challenges for the team as it prepares for the trip is to avoid getting worn down throughout the week away from home.
“There’s a tendency to become weary,” Walton said. “It’s hard to stay rested sleeping in hotels. It’s hard to get the food and the hydration that you need, so all those things tend to wear you down through the course of the week.
“This is a road trip where we go out, play four matches and maybe win one in a typical year. So, the challenge I’ve laid down for this year’s team is, you know, be exceptional.”
While the trip is for business purposes and the goal is to win matches, Walton wants to give the team some time to relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
“There’s a mix with this trip,” Walton said. “We do want the guys to have an opportunity to see a little bit of California and experience some things that are going to make it feel a bit like spring break. The trick again is to balance that and not to wear yourselves out.”
With the team dealing with some new challenges over the 10 days, Walton has fielded many questions from younger players about what to expect from the experience. The coaching staff has made sure to fill the players in on every detail, educating them about what kind of routine to look forward to. Walton said clarity is important in order to keep the players from wondering what comes next, which will allow them to focus on playing solid matches.
With three of Ball State’s West Coast opponents boasting a top 15 ranking, Walton knows the future ramifications of this road trip could impact the team’s potential to make the 2018 NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship tournament as an at-large bid if it doesn’t win its conference.
“There are all sorts of challenges that go on with this week, reasons why it can be tough, but I think this team is capable of handling this type of trip and doing extremely well because of our depth, because of some of the experience we have,” Walton said. “And I think overall, we’re just a talented team, so even though we’re talking to the guys about challenges and things they need to overcome, I think they’re capable of doing that.”
Ball State will begin its West Coast trip with a match against UC San Diego. The match is scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m.