At home, No. 11 Ball State men’s volleyball (13-11, 6-4 MIVA) looks unbeatable at times. On the road, however, the team has had its share of struggles. That trend continued tonight in its loss to Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association opponent No. 10 Lewis (16-8, 7-3 MIVA) in straight sets (13-25, 21-25, 20-25).
With tonight’s loss, Ball State fell to just 6-8 on the road, and four of those losses have come in straight sets.
"I think energy has been a part of our struggles on the road," head coach Joel Walton said. "We just haven't approached the match and been committed to competing the way that we need to, and some of that too has been our inability to pass consistently, so it's put a lot of pressure on our offense to produce."
The first set was a disaster for Ball State. Three different players finished with at least three kills in the opening set for the Flyers, while the Cardinals finished with just six kills as a team. The visitors finished with a -.071 hitting percentage in the opening game, struggling to generate any offense as Lewis finished with five total team blocks. Much like Ball State’s previous match against Loyola-Chicago, the team struggled with its attack, finishing with eight attacking errors on the way to a 25-13 loss in the opening game.
The next game was much more tightly contested, but Ball State’s efforts still weren’t enough. The Cardinals were kept at an arm’s length throughout the set and were never able to make a much-needed run after the Flyers went on a 3-0 spurt with the score at 10-9 in their favor. Ball State never pulled the deficit under two points once that run came. After staving off every comeback attempt from Ball State, Lewis finished off the second set with a 25-21 victory.
"We didn't sustain any kind of defensive pressure with our serve," Walton said. "We would win a point or two, but we didn't have any long, sustained runs against them."
At the half, Lewis boasted a .476 hitting percentage compared to just a .078 from the visitors. Lewis played a clean match through two sets, holding just five attacking errors compared to 13 from Ball State. Matt Szews and Blake Reardon paced Ball State with four kills apiece, while TJ Murray and Mitch Perinar led the way for Lewis with seven kills each.
Ball State started out hot with a 6-2 run to open the third set, but quickly cooled off as Lewis weathered the storm. The 10th-ranked Flyers quickly responded with an 8-2 run, swinging the momentum back in their favor. After the response, Ball State never led again in the set. A 5-2 finish to the final game allowed Lewis to complete the sweep, 25-20.
"The biggest difference was their ability to serve us out of system, and our inability to put their setter in any kind of difficult spots," Walton said. "Their setter was sitting up on the net all night long and running the offense that he wanted to run. ... We had two games tonight where we hit negative."
The Cardinals couldn’t generate much consistency on the offensive end, finishing with a .038 hitting percentage and 22 attacking errors. Lewis held a solid .381 hitting percentage and tallied 34 total kills to go along with 14 total team blocks. Matt Szews led Ball State in kills with six, while Ryan Coenen totaled 10 to lead Lewis.
The loss dropped Ball State to fourth in the MIVA standings.
The good news for the Cardinals is that the team will finish its regular season with four matches at home, where it holds a 7-2 record.
Ball State will host Lindenwood Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Worthen Arena.