In its fourth consecutive match against a ranked opponent, No. 12 Ball State Men’s Volleyball (7-7, 1-3 MIVA) will return to Worthen Arena Thursday to face No. 15 Purdue Fort Wayne (8-7, 2-2 MIVA).
Similar to the Cardinals, the Mastodons recently concluded a two-match road trip against Loyola-Chicago and Lewis on Feb. 15 and 16. The team had the exact same results as the Cardinals in both matches, with 3-1 and 3-0 losses to the Ramblers and Flyers, respectively.
The Cardinals have not faced the Mastodons in the regular season since March 17, 2018, a 3-0 win for the Cardinals. However, head coach Joel Walton said the Cardinals struggled with finding consistency when the two teams faced last preseason.
“Purdue Fort Wayne is a good team,” Walton said. “Our guys have to be focused. We’re in a position already in conference play that because we have three losses already, every conference match is critical to us.”
The fact that the Cardinals are only four matches into conference play has not stopped Walton from thinking about gaining a top seed in the MIVA tournament this April. Walton said he hopes the Cardinals use their home-court advantage Thursday, as the Mastodons have not won in Worthen Arena since Feb. 5, 2015.
“We see within our league the importance of home-court advantage,” Walton said. “It’s just critical, both during regular season and postseason play.”
Averaging 12.37 kills per set, the Mastodons' offense is run by senior opposite hitter Colton Stone and junior outside hitter Pelegrin Vargas. Defensively, the team has 450 digs this season, led by senior libero Kolbie Knorr with 97.
Walton said proper serving will be key in Thursday’s match, something the Cardinals struggled with in last weekend’s matches.
“If [Purdue Fort Wayne] is passing well, it’s going to be harder to play good defense against them,” Walton said. “We need to do a good job with our serve, trying to get Fort Wayne’s pass off the net so it minimizes the options available to their setter.”
While the Mastodons are currently in the midst of a three-match losing streak, the team was previously riding a four-match winning streak, including wins over MIVA opponents Ohio State and McKendree.
“We’ve got to look at Fort Wayne as a critical match,” Walton said. “We’ve got to look at them as an opponent that’s very important. We need to step on the court with incredible focus and determination because we’re going to see that on the other side of the net.