Although Ball State Men’s Volleyball (7-5, 1-1 MIVA) head coach Joel Walton has been stressing the importance of a consistent offense to his players, it was the Cardinals’ defense which propelled the team to defeat George Mason (8-2, 2-0 EIVA) in a five-set battle Sunday.
The Cardinals led the Patriots in blocks, 12.5-8, and tallied 47 digs.
“I thought our defense was better,” Walton said. “Our defense really stood out in games four and five. We did a good job and gutted out some digs. I started to see some balls that were skating off some players arms early in the match, and we had some opportunities to take some really aggressive swings.”
Sophomore setter Quinn Isaacson led the Cardinals in digs with 10. Isaacson continued to fill in for junior setter Jake Romano, who sat out his second straight match Sunday with a thumb injury.
Sophomore outside attacker Ben Chinnici said his team has continuously worked to improve on defense since the beginning of the season, and tonight’s effort paid off.
“We made a lot of hustle digs that we wouldn’t have made early on this year,” Chinnici said. “To be able to do that now definitely gave us an edge.”
Walton said he was impressed with Chinnici’s performance. Chinnici ended the match with a season-high 12 kills, including match point.
“Ben really solidified our passing,” Walton said. “He made some critical defensive plays in game four along the baseline.”
Sets one and two both saw extra points. The Cardinals dropped set one, 29-27, but a win by the same score in set two tied the match.
“The guys did a good job gaining some momentum in game two,” Walton said “It would’ve been a rough night if we fell 0-2.”
The Patriots took set three, 25-17. Hayden Wagner led the Patriots in kills with 12, while Jack Reese led the team in hitting percentage at .429.
However, the Cardinals came out on top in set four, 25-20, off a service ace from sophomore libero Colin Ensalaco and a kill from senior middle attacker Parker Swartz. Four kills from Chinnici in set five boosted the Cardinals to a 15-11 win to take the match.
“I’m tired but very excited,” Chinnici said. “That was a fantastic win, and we showed a lot of fight.”
The Patriots were riding a five-match win streak heading into Sunday’s match. Walton said the home-court advantage was a key factor in the win after the team fell 3-0 to McKendree Thursday.
“George Mason has played very well, and we were only their second loss,” Walton said. “I think it helped that George Mason was on the road and playing a back-to-back.”
The Cardinals will return to action Friday at Lewis for an 8 p.m. start time.