After participating in four preseason tournaments this fall, Ball State Men’s Volleyball (2-1, 0-0 MIVA) is eager for success this regular season, utilizing the current depth on the roster alongside four newcomers.
The Cardinals finished their 2018 campaign with an 18-12 record; however, the team ultimately fell short of a MIVA Championship qualification with a semifinals loss to Loyola-University Chicago. After being unranked to start the season, Ball State broke into the AVCA Top 15 this week.
The preseason matches gave head coach Joel Walton a chance to evaluate his team’s chemistry by utilizing different lineups, but he admits the Cardinals struggled to find a consistent offensive rhythm.
“We played all 20 of our guys a relatively even amount in the preseason, and it gave us a chance to evaluate everyone on the roster,” Walton said. “Because we were playing a lot of newer players, there were inconsistencies in how we served and passed. We want our guys to gel and gain consistency.”
Despite the early struggles, all of the team’s non-graduating veterans from last season, minus former middle attacker Justin Koren, are returning. The Cardinals welcome four freshmen this season, including middle attacker Felix Egharevba, who is helping to fill the void at the position previously held by Koren and former three-time MIVA Player of the Week Matt Walsh.
Egharevba, who previously attended Naperville Central High School in Naperville, Illinois, served as team captain his senior year and currently holds his high school’s record for blocks in a single season. Another encouraging addition to the Cardinals is freshman outside attacker Kaleb Jenness, who brings experience both on the court and on the beach.
“[Kaleb] comes from South Carolina and his team would have to travel great distances to find good competition,” Walton said. “The fact that he played so much outdoor and sand volleyball is something that’ll help hone his skills.”
Other new additions to the Cardinals include freshmen outside attackers Brandon Shepherd and Nick Martinski of Pearland, Texas, and Elk Grove, Illinois.
As one of the Cardinals’ veterans, junior setter Jake Romano recognizes this year’s team and its fresh faces bring higher amounts of energy onto the court compared to previous seasons.
“We have some guys who are very talented athletes but not always the loudest on the court,” Romano said. “[The new additions] bring that.”
Last season, Romano was named MIVA Player of the Week twice and averaged nine assists per set. Romano said he hopes to take advantage of the leadership aspects of his position.
“I oversee a lot of what happens on the court,” Romano said. “Having been here for a few years and seeing how things work on the court has had a huge impact, and I look forward to continuing to help the younger guys as we go.”
In addition to Romano, the team will feature three seniors: libero Adam Wessel, middle attacker Parker Swartz and outside hitter David Siebum. Siebum recently tallied 14 kills and five digs in the Cardinals’ match against New Jersey Institute of Technology on Jan 5.
Last season, the Cardinals finished with a 12-3 record at Worthen Arena. The Cardinals’ 12-match winning streak at home was snapped Monday against No. 3 University of California-Irvine, but they continue to hope for a supportive crowd.
“We’re going to be playing in our conference against sometimes as many as four or five nationally ranked teams just in the conference we play in,” Walton said. “We’re also going to play ranked team after ranked team here in Muncie and usually we play very well at home in Worthen Arena.”