In a match that had a promising start for No. 11 Ball State men’s volleyball, the team couldn’t sustain the momentum of a commanding first set, eventually falling 3-1 (25-22, 19-25, 15-25, 22-25) to No. 8 Loyola-Chicago in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Tournament Semifinals.
"I'm sure for the seniors and for everybody, it's hard," head coach Joel Walton said. "I wasn't expecting to lose tonight. I really felt like we had a team that could compete against Loyola. I thought we matched up well against them."
Ball State (18-12, 10-4 MIVA) started strong in the opening set, and that led to some much-needed momentum to start the team’s road match. Although Ball State never led by more than three in the set, it never trailed by more than a point. The Cardinals responded to every run the Ramblers tried to make before putting away the set, 25-22, which is just the start the visitors wanted to have. Ball State used an efficient attack to hit above .400 in the first game. Loyola (23-6, 11-3 MIVA) was haunted by five service errors in the opener.
The first set was exactly what Walton expected to see from his team on the night.
"Game one is really how I felt we could play," Walton said. "We were passing well, and our offense ran. We had a game plan that we wanted to take advantage of their setter when he was in the front row, and the left sides were doing really well putting balls away."
The second set was a different story. Loyola shook its serving woes from the first game and rode the momentum of an efficient attack to slowly pull away from Ball State. A 4-0 run put the Ramblers in front by three, and that was enough to keep the Cardinals from making a comeback. Loyola stretched its lead to as many as five, and its seventh service ace of the match spelled the end for Ball State, knotting things up at one set apiece with a 25-19 win for the hosts.
Set three was disastrous for Ball State. Loyola jumped out to a commanding 7-1 lead and never looked back. After the hot start from the Ramblers, the Cardinals were unable to pull within six points. A kill from Jeff Jendryk sealed a quick set for Loyola, 25-15, putting the conference’s second seed in control of the match.
"In games two and three, our passing broke pretty severely, and we were just struggling," Walton said. "I was more surprised when we stopped competing in games two and three, and some things kind of fell apart."
The fourth set was back-and-forth the entire way. Ball State consistently climbed back from small deficits, but could never build its own lead. After trading points throughout the set, the Cardinals last held the lead at 19-18, then the Ramblers made a deciding run. A handling error from Blake Reardon on an attempted set locked up the win for Loyola, ending Ball State’s season, 25-22, and leading to a lot of elation for the home team, as it will now face Ohio State for the MIVA Tournament Championship.
Overall, Ben Chinnici led Ball State with 16 kills, while Matt Walsh followed with a dozen kills and three block assists in the final match of his collegiate career. For Loyola, Collin Mahan led the match with 16 kills, and Ryan Jameson and Avery Aylsworth had a match-high 17 digs. Loyola finished with nine service aces.
Ball State finished its season with an 18-12 record, falling in the MIVA Tournament Semifinals for a second consecutive year.