Making its return to the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Tournament Semifinals for the second consecutive season, No. 3 seed Ball State men's volleyball will look to take down No. 2 seed Loyola-Chicago.
The Cardinals are seeking its first MIVA Tournament Championship appearance since 2009 when they fell to the top-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes. In its tournament meeting with Loyola (22-6, 11-3 MIVA) last season, Ball State (18-11, 10-4 MIVA) won in four sets during the quarterfinal round.
This season, the Cardinals split their two matchups with the Ramblers. Ball State took down Loyola in four sets in Worthen Arena to hand the visitors their first conference loss, and Loyola swept Ball State in Gentile Arena.
Riding a five-match winning streak, Ball State carries momentum into enemy territory. Despite the possibility of a less-than-friendly environment on the road, head coach Joel Walton said he doesn't expect too much hostility.
"I would expect a good crowd," Walton said. "Even if we run into some spectators that are doing what they can to distract our players, there's still a space barrier between those spectators and our guys on the court that will allow our guys to do their best to focus in on what they need to be focusing on to be successful."
Another difference in the tournament setting stems from the slight shift in playing schedule. Throughout the regular season, Ball State habitually played back-to-back matches during weekends. In the conference tournament, the schedule shifts to Wednesday and Saturday matches. Even with the changes that could pose an adaptive challenge to the team, Walton doesn't seem to mind the way things are scheduled.
"I love the way that the MIVA set up our tournament," Walton said. "The fact that we really have three very distinct rounds, and we've done it primarily to allow for the higher seed to host each round of our tournament and to create tournament environments so that for every single match that's going to be played in the MIVA Tournament, there's going to be a home team with their supporting team trying to move through."
Walton also said the changed format gives his team a few days to distinctly prepare for each opponent. With preparation comes the knowledge that everything has to be left on the court during tournament time, so practice may consist of less exertion than usual.
"I'd love to tell you that our starting unit has been absolutely sharp in practice and super highly motivated," Walton said. "That's not necessarily the case. I think when you get to this time of the year, your guys are getting the repetitions they need, and they're putting in the energy that they need to in practice to be functional.
"But, I think they realize there's a little bit of energy conservation that goes on at this time of year and the most important plays that they're going to make are going to be at the end of the week, on the weekend [and] in competition."
If Ball State comes away with a win, it'll face the winner of No. 4 seed Lewis and top-seeded Ohio State in the MIVA Championship.
Wednesday's match with Loyola is scheduled to start at 8 p.m.