In a match which saw Ball State Men’s Volleyball (15-15, 6-9 MIVA) go to extra points in its final three sets, the Cardinals ultimately fell short of a MIVA Semifinals with a 3-2 loss to McKendree (13-12, 7-8 MIVA) in the MIVA Quarterfinals Saturday.
With McKendree’s win, the Bearcats advanced to the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association semifinals for only the second time in team history.
“We have won a number of five-game matches this year, but tonight just wasn’t one that we could finish off,” head coach Joel Walton said.
Throughout this season, the Cardinals saw plenty of pleasant surprises, including a promising start from freshman outside attacker Kaleb Jenness and sophomore setter Quinn Isaacson carrying more weight after junior setter Jake Romano suffered an injury in early February.
However, Walton said the team’s sub-.500 record proved costly, as the Cardinals did not have home court advantage in the MIVA Quarterfinals for the first time since 2015.
“We were playing in front of a group of students, and other fans at McKendree that were fired up,” Walton said. “Playing at home in tournament time is huge, and the inconsistent play that we had all season long: losing some matches that I think we should’ve won came back to bite us a little tonight.”
Ball State struggled early in set one. The Bearcats took the first, 25-19, ending the set on a 5-1 scoring run.
The second set saw a similar narrative to the first. Both teams were tied, 17-17, but a minus .034 hitting percentage in the set ultimately hurt the Cardinals. McKendree took set two, 25-22, putting Ball State on the brink of elimination.
Set three was when the storylines began to shift. A 17-13 lead for the Cardinals forced a McKendree timeout, but the Bearcats proved they were not done yet, as the teams would tie at 24. Ball State ultimately prevailed with a 27-25 win, avoiding a sweep.
Set four saw neither team have a lead of three or more points. Going into extras for the second consecutive set, a kill from junior middle attacker Lemuel Turner and a Bearcats attack error gave the Cardinals a tight 29-27 victory to tie the set.
“We didn’t start the match too well, but we kind of dug our way out of it,” Walton said.
Ball State took its momentum into set five with a 7-3 lead early on. However, the Bearcats stormed back into the set to take a 10-8 lead, forcing the Cardinals’ tenth and final timeout of the match.
Kills from sophomore outside hitter Zach Nielsen and junior outside attacker Matt Szews kept the Cardinals competitive in the remaining moments of the match, but a kill from junior middle blocker Lucas Galifos sealed the victory for McKendree. The Bearcats took the set, 16-14, and the match 3-2.
Walton said the team’s collapse in set five was based on a mix of inconsistent offense and poor serving. The Cardinals recorded 32 attack errors throughout the five sets.
“We just got stuck in a rotation,” Walton said. “We made a lot of offensive errors; [McKendree] was able to pass us up, and we couldn’t get the few points that we needed to at the end.
Despite the loss, Saturday’s match saw Nielsen have a career night. His career-high 14 kills were second on the team behind Szews, who finished with 22.
“Zach’s a great offensive player,” Walton said. “It’s his defense and serve receive that’s made it hard for us to put him out on the court, but tonight we needed him. [Senior outside hitter] David Siebum was having a rough patch and we needed someone to come in and stop making errors.”