Coming off a 2018 season that saw Ball State Men’s Volleyball head to the MIVA semifinals, great expectations were on the line heading into 2019. From the addition of four freshmen, including outside attacker Kaleb Jenness, as well as a number of returners, confidence was key for the Cardinals early.

In his career debut, Jenness boosted the Cardinals to a season-opening sweep over Princeton. The following night, Ball State would go on to defeat NJIT, 3-2, before falling to UC Irvine, 3-0, on Jan. 7 to snap the team’s 12-match win streak at home. 

With a 2-1 record to start the season, Ball State traveled west to face ranked opponents Stanford and BYU on Jan. 10 and 12. However, the Cardinals were swept in both matches. 

Ball State returned to Worthen Arena Jan. 18 for night one of the Don Shondell Active Ankle Challenge against UC Santa Barbara, but Jenness’ 22 kills weren’t enough, as the team fell, 2-3. However, the Cardinals turned things around the next night against Cal State Northridge, as junior outside attacker Blake Reordan’s 15 kills and .444 attack percentage propelled the team to a 3-2 win.

Then came the team’s conference opener. After suffering a 25-14 loss in set one, ten service aces from the Cardinals gave them a 3-1 comeback victory over Ohio State on Jan. 26 to begin conference play. Wins on the road against Harvard and Sacred Heart on Feb. 1 and 2 extended the team’s win streak to four matches.

However, the Cardinals quickly faced adversity. The team lost junior setter Jake Romano for just over a month due to a thumb injury and was swept by McKendree on Feb. 7 to even the team’s conference record. 

The Cardinals’ 12.5 blocks, and 59 assists from sophomore setter Quinn Isaacson propelled them to a comeback win over George Mason on Feb. 10, but losses to Lewis, Loyola-Chicago and Purdue Fort Wayne put Ball State’s MIVA record at 1-4 to end February.

After eight days off, Ball State got back on track with sweeps over Lindenwood and Quincy on March 1 and 2 before heading to Honolulu for the Outrigger Tournament. The Cardinals fell to Pepperdine and Hawaii, but ended the tournament on a high note with a 3-0 victory over King. Junior outside attacker Matt Szews’ 43 kills throughout the tournament earned him a spot on the Outrigger Resorts Invitational All-Tournament Team.

Beginning a four-match season ending homestand, the Cardinals took their momentum from Hawaii with a 3-0 sweep over Saint Francis on March 15. The team then held its Senior Night on March 16, and Szews’ 21 kills as well as a spark off the bench from Jenness stole the show in a 3-1 win over Penn State.

Ball State struggled in a 3-0 loss to Loyola-Chicago on March 21, but snapped MIVA leader Lewis’ 11-match win streak on March 23 in a five-set battle. However, the team’s season-ending five-match road trip did not have an ideal start with a loss to Purdue Fort Wayne on March 26, which saw Jenness suffer a season-ending finger injury.

The Cardinals ended the season by taking two of their last four matches. The team came out victorious over Quincy and limited McKendree to a .114 hitting percentage on April 4, but losses to Lindenwood and Ohio State put the team in the fifth seed heading into the MIVA tournament.

For the first time since 2015, the Cardinals entered the MIVA quarterfinals in upset territory against McKendree on April 13. The team fought back in sets three and four after facing a 2-0 deficit, but the Bearcats ultimately prevailed in set five, ending the Cardinals’ season.

Saturday’s match was the final effort for the team’s four seniors: libero Adam Wessel, middle attacker Parker Swartz, outside hitter David Siebum and middle attacker Lemuel Turner. However, Szews, who led the Cardinals in kills with 361, will return to the team for his senior year, in addition to the duo of Isaacson and Romano at setter.

The Cardinals will look to grow and build around pieces including Jenness, sophomore outside attacker Ben Chinnici and freshman middle attacker Felix Egharevba. While there may be holes in the roster with the departure of the team’s four seniors, the Cardinals will undoubtedly have plenty of motivation after Saturday’s loss heading into 2020.

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