Now that the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Tournament has arrived, it’s win or go home. No. 11 Ball State men’s volleyball got the memo and proceeded to hand out a 3-0 (26-24, 25-20, 25-23) sweep of McKendree for the second time in as many weeks.
“[McKendree] played better tonight than they did last week; they played like tonight mattered,” head coach Joel Walton said. “They didn’t want their season to end, so that’s going to be the scenario now for the rest of the year. Every team that you’re facing is win or go home, and whoever can handle those feelings, those nerves, who can handle the moment, that’s going to be the team that moves forward.”
The first set treated the fans in attendance to an overtime battle. An early 5-0 run allowed Ball State (18-11, 10-4 MIVA) to take control in the beginning, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a McKendree (11-15, 6-8 MIVA) comeback. After chipping away throughout most of the set, the Bearcats eventually built a two-point lead at 21-19 and looked to have the Cardinals reeling. Then, Matt Szews stepped behind the service line and came up big for the hosts. Two service aces in three attempts by Szews sparked the comeback for the Cardinals, and a final kill from Parker Swartz eventually sealed the win, 26-24.
“That was a great team across the net, and for us to come out early and start getting the energy and get the train moving was great; exactly what we’re looking for going into this tournament,” sophomore setter Jake Romano said.
Set two began in more of a back-and-forth style. After Ball State trailed 8-7, back-to-back service aces from Jake Romano allowed the Cardinals to rattle off a 9-3 run and take control of the set. From there, it was all Ball State. A Szews kill spelled the end of the game as Ball State seized a commanding 2-0 lead, putting itself in position to advance to the MIVA Semifinals.
“When we were passing well, all those guys were so confident tonight that we were pretty much able to do what we wanted whenever we wanted,” Romano said. “If we can pass like that going into Wednesday, I really like our chances.”
The third and final set was tightly contested, but Ball State found a way to pull it off. Both teams exchanged blows in a set that saw 14 ties and four lead changes. Ball State trailed late by a score of 21-20, but a timeout by Walton was followed by two straight attacking errors from McKendree, and Ball State wouldn’t trail the rest of the way. A kill from Parker Swartz sealed the deal for the Cardinals and advanced them to the MIVA Tournament Semifinals.
Throughout the night, the Bearcats were chirping at the Cardinals and doing some talking before serves and after points. That didn’t affect the play of Ball State, and the players didn’t respond, which is exactly how they prefer things.
“For me personally, I just try to let my play speak for me,” Szews said. “What’s it going to do for you if you just talk, and you can’t actually do what you have to do to win? I think as a team, with those guys chirping at us, it kind of gives us a little energy from the bench and on the court. We just kind of work extra hard to overcome what guys are saying. It adds a little bit of humor also. It makes us a little more relaxed. It makes it more fun.”
In a balanced effort, Szews, Matt Walsh and Mitch Weiler all tied for the team lead with 10 kills. Szews led the way with seven digs and a season-high four service aces, while Jake Romano evenly distributed the ball, dishing out 36 assists. McKendree’s Nolan Rueter led the match with 13 kills. Ball State finished with nine service aces as a team and an efficient .330 hitting percentage.
Next up, Ball State will go on the road to face second-seeded Loyola-Chicago Wednesday.