After losing to Western Michigan (10-5, 0-1 MAC) in the first round of the MAC tournament last season, Ball State (10-4, 1-0 MAC) wins a hard-fought battle against the Broncos in Kalamazoo Friday night.
The teams rallied back-and-forth in the first part of set one, but the Broncos quickly capitalized with kills from sophomore Rachel Bontrager, who currently leads the MAC in kills, and junior Kate Carey. Senior Ellie Dunn played solid throughout the rotation, not only contributing three kills but seven digs, as well. The Cardinals struggled throughout the set with a hitting percentage of .028 and a couple of key service errors, which would end with the Broncos taking set one, 25-17.
“We came out realizing that it was the first set of the MAC season,” Head coach Kelli Miller said. “We played a little too tight and that’s not our style, but in the sets following we settled in and played Ball State volleyball.”
The Cardinals held the early lead in set two with big kills from Dunn and junior Sydnee VanBeek. Bontrager continued her solid performance for the Broncos with a .429 hitting percentage between the two sets, ending set two with nine kills. The Cardinals would hold onto their momentum for this one, key hits from sophomore Kia Holder and VanBeek aiding the team in their set two victory, 25-17.
“It seemed like we relied on a different person from set-to-set and each person played quite a big role tonight,” Miller said. “Sydnee was a consistent leader on offense and defense, but the beauty of the match was the team effort we saw.”
To begin the third set, the Cardinals went on a 5-0 run aided by three Bronco errors. After trading several points back and forth, the Cardinals widened their lead to 12-3 on a kill from freshman Reece Kral. The Broncos closed the game late in the set after another kill from Bontrager to close the gap to 22-18. The Cardinals then poured in two points in a row after VanBeek earned a kill and a poor set from sophomore Emma Yarber of the Broncos. Senior Meg Starling finished the set with another kill to give the Cardinals a 25-19 set win and a 2-1 match lead.
Set four was a nail-biter forced into extra points that ended with a score of 26-24 as the Cardinals came back from a deficit to seal the match victory. VanBeek led the team with 17 kills, a .350 hitting percentage, and five total blocks. Junior setter Amber Seaman added 43 assists, Kral came up with nine kills, and Dunn led the team in digs with 19.
“Welcome to the MAC,” Miller said. “Every single game is going to be a grind. The MAC is scrappy and competitive and we have to be ready to play every single night.”
The Cardinals are back in action tomorrow in Dekalb, Illinois against Northern Illinois University at 8 PM.