After a 3-2 comeback victory over George Mason on Feb. 10, No. 12 Ball State Men’s Volleyball (7-5, 1-1 MIVA) will travel this weekend to face a pair of MIVA opponents, No. 10 Lewis (9-4, 2-0 MIVA) and No. 7 Loyola-Chicago (9-3, 2-0 MIVA) on Feb. 15 and 16. 

The Cardinals split their two matches against both teams in 2018. The team’s last victory against the Flyers at Neil Carey Arena dates back to April 6, 2010, while the Ramblers are 4-2 at home this season and went 17-1 at Gentile Arena in 2018.

“Wins in Chicago could put us in a position to be first, second or third in the conference,” head coach Joel Walton said. “That’s really how important those matches are, and we still need to approach them as if they are normal matches. Going into Lewis and Loyola is going to be very difficult.”

Improvements on offense have led the Cardinals to victory in five of their past six matches. However, Walton said defense will be key this weekend.

“If you look at our blocking against McKendree, we didn’t do a very good job,” Walton said. “Loyola’s offense is going to be very similar to McKendree, and Lewis is going to run at a tempo similar to George Mason.”

The Cardinals have 112.5 blocks on the season. Senior middle attacker Parker Swartz and junior outside attacker Matt Szews both lead the team with 38. 

“Both teams are hitting great numbers this year,” Swartz said. “I need to make sure I’m communicating with the other outsides and middles at the front of the net, and make sure we continue to be a great blocking team that we’ve historically been.”

Friday’s match will be the third of six consecutive conference matches for Lewis. The Flyers are led by senior setter Matt Yoshimoto, who was recently named MIVA Defensive Player of the Week. He tallied 29 assists and four service aces in the team’s 3-0 victory over Quincy on Feb. 9.

Saturday’s match against Loyola will see the Cardinals face a Ramblers team that is out-hitting their opponents in kills, 618 to 475. Sophomore outside hitter Colin Mahan leads the Ramblers with 3.29 kills per set.

“Conference matches are huge, especially away matches,” Swartz said. “We’re looking to get some big wins out there that we haven’t gotten in a very long time.. A lot of our guys from Chicago want to go out and put on a big show.”

Walton said his team needs to be prepared for greater competition than usual.

“They’re both really good teams,” Walton said. “They both play with a little more confidence and a little more swagger. We have to earn points and be attentive to what our game plan is.”

Contact Connor Smith with any comments at cnsmith@bsu.edu or on Twitter @cnsmithbsu