While “Thriller” by Michael Jackson was playing across the loudspeakers on Halloween night at Worthen Arena, the thrill was on the court as Ball State Women’s Volleyball (12-11, 6-5 MAC) defeated Toledo, (7-16, 0-11 MAC) 3-2.
It was not the final score that made this match interesting. It was the back-and-forth scoring, the Cardinals’ come-from-behind set victories and the career highs by freshman outside hitter Natalie Risi and redshirt freshman setter Esther Grussing.
Risi set a personal best with 26 kills, and Grussing recorded a career-high 64 assists. Risi made it clear she could not accomplish this without her team.
“It is definitely exciting when you are out there doing that, but it could not have happened without Esther giving me good sets or like the defense telling me what shots are open,” Risi said. “It is really like a team effort.”
Grussing, who has not had a lot of playing time, proved her poise and took advantage of the opportunities given to her.
“It feels amazing because I haven’t gotten the time to go in, so when I got the opportunity to have that career high, it kind of boosted my energy and self esteem,” Grussing said.
Head coach Kelli Miller Phillips had high praise for the redshirt freshman, talking about her confidence and ability to take control of the team and get them in the right frame of mind.
“Esther, I thought, did a really good job of running the offense,” Phillips said. “I think my job is really tough because we have a lot of really good players that can all run the offense and come in and play. I thought Esther did a nice job of coming in and feeling confident the whole night.”
Grussing said that leadership role and being more than just a setter have the team following her emotions.
“It was stressful,” Grussing said. “After the first couple of points, I kind of relaxed, and having that leadership role, I knew I could carry it. As a leader, you kind of have to take that energy on your back, and I knew that if I was composed, it would carry over to the team.”
The chemistry between Risi and Grussing has become evident, as they are formulating trust in the home stretch of the season.
“I think our trust has built with each other,” Risi said. “I know she will get the ball to where I need it to swing, but her also trusting that I will put it away for her.”
The Cardinals had to play the role of comeback kids, as they trailed in the final set but still came away victorious.
“I told the girls this from the beginning that we have been right there and inches away,” Miller Phillips said. “Points away from winning a lot of these sets, and tonight, we just had this confidence and belief that no matter what the score, we would keep fighting.”
Ball State hosts Buffalo Saturday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m.