After a 3-0 loss to Purdue Fort Wayne Feb. 21, No. 15 Ball State (7-8, 1-4 MIVA) will return to action this weekend against Lindenwood (7-9, 3-3 MIVA) and Quincy (4-12, 0-6 MIVA).

The Cardinals have struggled in MIVA play this season, dropping their last four conference matches. Head coach Joel Walton said consistency is the team’s top focus heading into this weekend.   

“We haven’t started conference play the way that we’ve wanted to,” Walton said. “There’s still a lot of volleyball left in the season. I think we’re competitive in most of the games that we play, but the number of errors we’ve had with our serve and attacking have been hard to overcome at times.”

Walton said the Cardinals are greatly missing junior setter Jake Romano, who has been out since Feb. 2 with a thumb injury. The team has gone 1-4 without his presence.

“We still don’t have an exact timetable [for Romano’s return],” Walton said. “He could be coming into practices as early as this week or next week. We’ll have to get him back into practices and see how that goes.”

The Cardinals swept the Lions in their two regular-season meetings in 2018. Lindenwood is led on offense by junior outside hitter Charley Hlavin, who averages 2.72 kills per set. 

Saturday’s opponent, the Hawks, are in the middle of a six-match losing streak and have struggled to find success this season. The Cardinals will look to take advantage of the team’s 239 service errors and .179 hitting percentage. 

With the extended time off, junior Nick Lavanchy is confident the Cardinals will find success this weekend.

“We’re looking forward to getting back in rhythm,” Lavanchy said. “I think this is a great opportunity for us to get back on track. I think if we take care of business this weekend, it’ll give us some momentum with heading to Hawaii next week.”

Following this weekend’s matches, the Cardinals will travel to Honolulu, Hawaii, for the Outrigger Tournament, facing No. 4 Pepperdine, No. 2 Hawaii and King in early March. The Cardinals last participated in the tournament in 2017, which saw the team defeat Princeton and Erskine College.

“I’m looking forward to some great competition, and it’s just going to be a fun trip overall,” freshman outside attacker Kaleb Jenness said.

While the Cardinals have succeeded in the tournament before, Walton said his team needs to stay focused and not let the warm weather be a distraction. 

“It’s a competition, not a vacation,” Walton said. “That’s one of the messages that we have to get through to the guys. We have to be very careful in Hawaii; if the guys get out and get too much sun, they won’t have any energy left when it comes time for the matches.”

The tournament will be a tough challenge for the Cardinals, as the team will play three matches in three nights. Walton said he hopes this weekend’s conference matches will serve as good preparation and help the team gain energy.

“There are no easy matches,” Walton said. “Our goal is to go out there and win three matches. That’s what we want to work toward, and we need to do that by playing better on our own court and staying consistent.”

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