The Cardinals are going dancing. Ball State Women’s Volleyball (20-11,11-5 MAC) is heading to Lincoln, Nebraska, to take on fifth-seeded Nebraska (25-4,11-5 Big 10) in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament Friday at 7 p.m. 

This will be the first time since 2011 the Cardinals have been to the tournament where they made it to the second round, defeating St. Louis before ultimately falling short to Louisville. Head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said she is glad to be able to continue the successful history of the program.

“It is awesome to add to the tradition of Ball State volleyball,” Miller Phillips said. “We talked a lot about this moment with our seniors and seeing their hard work pay off each year. We have gotten better each and every year.” 

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Nebraska has two players from Indiana: freshman defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles from Yorktown and sophomore defensive specialist Megan Miller from Alexandria. As far as the Cornhuskers as a whole, Miller Phillips said she doesn’t see a lot of weaknesses in the Nebraska squad, but the Cardinals are looking to take advantage of any they’ll see in the game.  

“It will be kind of neat to face off against some local players,” Miller Phillips said. “They are really strong and do not have a ton of glaring weaknesses. That is going to be our job to figure out where and what those weaknesses are per rotation, and how we can exploit that and use our strengths.”

For the Cardinals, it is about sticking true to who they are and what has been successful for them all season long. It is about remaining calm and not letting the bright lights phase them. 

“Because they are No. 5, we have to think about being us and not changing everything,” senior middle blocker Sydnee VanBeek said. “We got to where we are for a reason, and we know what we are doing. We have to keep the nerves calm and be us.”

Assistant coach Tiffany Fisher talks to freshman outside hitter Natalie Mitchem after she was rotated out in the fourth set against Central Michigan Nov. 16, 2019, in John E. Worthen Arena. Before Coaching at Ball State, Fisher played volleyball for Purdue where she competed in three NCAA Championships. Eric Pritchett, DN

An area where Ball State has been working on cleaning up is its defense and blocking with how physical Nebraska is. The Cardinals want to adjust to their opponent just like any other game. In their final match against Ohio State Nov. 30, the Cornhuskers swept the Buckeyes, picking up 34 kills and nine blocks. In the Cardinals’ last match against Bowling Green, Ball State tied the Falcons in blocks with nine.

“We have been really cleaning up our defense and blocking,” freshman outside hitter Natalie Risi said. “No matter who we play, we can adjust. We just want to get good touches, and we have been cleaning up our side of the ball.”

Another adjustment for Ball State is going to be playing against a bigger, more physical team. This is the complete opposite of the Cardinals, who are smaller and quicker. This is a trend between the Mid-American Conference and the Big 10.

“It is pretty different,” Miller Phillips said. “The Big 10 plays with a different tempo because they can jump higher and hit from a higher trajectory, so they don’t have to run with quite the pace that a lot of MAC teams do. We play with a little quicker set tempo. They have more physicality in their athletes just from a size standpoint alone. We have to use our speed and IQ and beat them. We can’t beat them with height but can with speed.”

While the Cardinals are looking to win, they also want to soak in playing tournament volleyball for the first time in almost a decade. Miller Phillips said she wants to keep things in perspective and just enjoy the moment. 

“What an opportunity,” Miller Phillips said. “If you have joy and just love competing, you will enjoy that environment. I don’t think you can get too wrapped up in one point or one environment. You just have to go out and enjoy the moment.”

Contact Ian Hansen with comments at imhansen@bsu.edu or on Twitter @ianh_2.