It wasn’t pretty at times, but Ball State men’s volleyball persevered for a grind-it-out victory over Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association foe No. 15 Fort Wayne (15-6, 3-4 MIVA).
"Every single win right now in conference is critical and for sure road wins are more significant," head coach Joel Walton said. "It just doesn't get any easier, though. It's something that we get to put a 'W' in the correct column tonight and get back to Ball State and prepare to play IPFW again, which we know is going to be another tough conference match."
After dropping the first set, No. 11 Ball State (12-9, 5-2 MIVA) fought for a 3-2 (21-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 15-10), much-needed victory to snap a two-match skid. Ball State’s win was its fourth win over a ranked opponent this season.
The opening set looked like it was going Ball State’s way after the team jumped out to a 4-2 lead, but a pair of attacking errors by the visitors helped a 4-0 run by Fort Wayne that would put them in control of the set for its entirety. The Cardinals racked up five attacking errors in the set, which would prove to be their downfall as the Mastodons took the opening game, 25-21. Matt Szews and Matt Walsh led the Cardinals in the first set with three kills apiece. Fort Wayne totaled 16 kills in the opening game on the way to a .355 hitting percentage.
Ball State began the second set on a mission. The Cardinals flew out to an 11-2 lead to start, but Fort Wayne didn’t go down without a fight. The hosts were able to battle back and get the set as close as two several times before Ball State managed to seal the game, 24-22. Through two sets, Ball State tallied 24 kills for a .217 hitting percentage. The only thing holding Ball State was back errors. The Cardinals totaled 11 attacking errors and six service errors through the first pair of games but were still tied 1-1 at the half. Szews led the team in kills through two games with seven, while Walsh wasn’t far behind with five on a stellar .556 hitting percentage.
The third set was a different story.
This time it was Fort Wayne who leapt out to a quick lead at 5-1. The Mastodons would ride that momentum to a wire-to-wire win in the third set to put them within a game of closing out a crucial conference match. Ball State showed some life toward the end as Ben Chinnici sparked a brief run to pull within three after the team trailed by as many as seven. Despite the late run by the visitors, Fort Wayne closed the set with a 25-21 victory. Through three sets, Ball State held a .250 hitting percentage, while Fort Wayne boasted a .375 percentage.
It was do or die for Ball State in the fourth set, and they managed to stay alive.
Ball State once again started off strong but struggled to maintain its lead. Ball State led by as many as six on multiple occasions before Fort Wayne fought back and pulled within one point down the stretch. A crucial kill by Mitch Weiler closed the set for the visitors and forced a deciding set. Fort Wayne struggled in the fourth set, hitting a .0 percentage.
One of the big changes throughout the match was the personnel Ball State brought in off the bench, bringing in Parker Swartz and Anthony Lebryk toward the end of the first game. The team also brought in junior outside hitter David Siebum through sets two and three.
"We had quite a bit of fluidity in that second outside attacking spot opposite Mitch Weiler," Walton said. "I think both teams were a little bit tired, and the fact that we had more of a bench that we could go to and rotate to the outside attackers ... that was something that played to our advantage."
The fifth and final set would decide the winner of the MIVA slugfest.
The Cardinals wasted no time getting out to a 3-0 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. Unlike the previous sets in which the team let Fort Wayne work its way back into the set, Ball State kept the hosts at an arm’s length throughout the game. After a Ball State timeout, an error from Fort Wayne’s Pelegrin Vargas sealed a huge conference victory, finishing off the set by a score of 15-10.
As a team, Ball State finished with 58 kills and a .263 hitting percentage. Matt Szews led the way for Ball State with 16 kills, while Matt Walsh had 11 kills on a solid .476 hitting percentage. Jake Romano and Szews led the team with eight digs. Walsh lived up to his status as the 10th-best blocker in the nation, finishing with nine total blocks. Ben Chinnici was big off the bench, finishing with six kills and a pair of service aces.
"[Matt] Szews competed really well tonight," Walton said. "You could tell he wanted to play well, and he wanted to be in a situation to help our team win, and I was pleased with his performance."
Ball State will return to Worthen Arena for its first home match in a month as the teams will have a rematch on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.