Kills: Matt Szews (13)
Assists: Jake Romano (35)
Total Blocks: Matt Walsh (6)
Aces: Jake Romano, Parker Swartz (2)
No. 11 Ball State men’s volleyball needed five sets to defeat No. 15 Fort Wayne (15-7, 3-5) on the road in its last match. This time around, the Cardinals defeated the Mastodons in straight sets (25-21, 25-22, 25-20) for their second win over their ranked Indiana rival this week.
Despite the win earlier in the week, head coach Joel Walton knew the team couldn’t get overconfident going into the rematch.
“Just because we beat them on Wednesday, that doesn’t mean anything tonight,” Walton said. “We had to go out again and play well. We had to set the tone in our gym. We had to play like it mattered that we’d been on the road for a long period of time and for the first time in a while, we were back home in our gymnasium, so our mentality, our energy, all of those things were things we’d talked about going into the match.”
Ball State (13-9, 6-2 MIVA) was on a roll to start the first set. With middle attacker Parker Swartz behind the service line, Ball State scored the first four points of the set behind a service ace, a kill from Matt Szews and a pair of attacking errors from Fort Wayne. The Mastodons didn’t go down without a fight, though. The visitors battled back and pulled within one point, but it wasn’t enough. An attacking error from Pelegrin Vargas scored the final point of the set for Ball State as it won the first game, 25-21. Fort Wayne finished with 12 kills and Ball State tallied 11, but Ball State had six fewer attacking errors, which proved to be the difference. Szews led the Cardinals in the set with five kills and a .273 hitting percentage.
The second set was more tightly contested, but Ball State found a way to come out on top in an energetic game. Both teams went back and forth until a 4-0 run put Ball State in front for the rest of the set. In the midst of that run, Jake Romano was fired up, letting out an emphatic “Let’s go,” followed by a fist pump. The team rode that momentum to a 25-22 victory in the set, which put the it in position to continue its strong play against Fort Wayne. At the half, Ball State held a .183 hitting percentage and had set up a strong wall with 15 block assists. After the first two sets, freshman Ben Chinnici and Szews led the way for the Cardinals with six and seven kills, respectively.
Szews said that energy like what Romano brought throughout the match can motivate the team to turn things up a notch.
“Once one of us — whether it’s the bench or someone on the — once we get going, it just spreads,” Szews said. “It’s hard to kind of stay tired and stay down when everyone else is really excited, so the energy we had tonight was really nice, and it helped us sustain our level of energy throughout the entire match.”
Romano was fired up throughout the night, and it was for a couple of reasons.
“Making some big energy plays in key moments was huge for us tonight,” Romano said. “I had one [where] me and Matt Walsh got a really good block on one of their strong outside hitters, and that was really a turning point for us. I think when we get the energy going, it really — as much as it helps us — it helps to shut them down, so turning the tide and really getting the energy toward us is what we’re looking for in every match, and especially against a good opponent like this. Getting as many of those racked up as we can is huge.”
The third set started out close, but Ball State was able to take over for a brief period and keep Fort Wayne at an arm’s length the rest of the way. A 3-0 Ball State run late in the game put the hosts in control and allowed them to complete their second win over Fort Wayne in a week, finishing off the set, 25-20, after Walton called a timeout with match point to compose his team and give Fort Wayne something to think about for that minute.
“It wasn’t until game three that we started pushing the ball up to the net for Jake, and that’s the one game where we actually hit .600, and that actually helped us overcome [the team’s serving errors] in game three, but our offense was just running at such a clip that we were able to give up those opportunities and score points, side back out, keep the serve running on our side and keep things going,” Walton said.
Overall, Szews led the team in kills with 13 to complement a .290 hitting percentage as he continues to regain his stride. Szews pointed out a couple of factors that have led to his recent performances.
“I’d say just grinding it out in practice and working with Jake Romano, and when we’re actually in matches, it helps that I thought that we passed really well tonight, so it kind of opened up opportunities for me on the right side with [Matt] Walsh or Parker [Swartz], Szews said.“
Matt Walsh was his usual self, making the most of his opportunities with seven kills and six block assists. Adam Wessel led the team with 10 digs, while Parker Swartz and Jake Romano each tallied a pair of service aces. No one on Fort Wayne totaled double digit kills as Tony Price led the visitors with nine kills. Michael Keegan led the match with 14 digs.
Holding Vargas and company in check was a goal for Romano and his teammates, and they got the job done.
“I was frustrated from earlier in this week,” Romano said. “Me and Matt Szews didn’t do our best job blocking [Vargas], and we let him have a career night for himself, so we kind of knew that going into tonight, and we knew a few things needed to change, and once we got him frustrated, and we started to block him, he really broke down. … That whole team kind of self-imploded, so finding those moments and really turning it to something of positivity for us is huge, and we’re really starting to find our confidence, and that’s going to be huge for us down the stretch.”
Next up for Ball State, the team will hit the road again to take on the Loyola Ramblers in its next match. The opening serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. on March 22.