Jenness, Shepherd's efforts not enough to push Ball State over George Mason

<p>Ball State Men's Volleyball players return a serve during their match against UC Santa Barbara Friday, Jan. 18 in John E. Worthen Arena. The Cardinals fell 3-2 in five sets. <strong>Connor Smith, DN</strong></p>

Ball State Men's Volleyball players return a serve during their match against UC Santa Barbara Friday, Jan. 18 in John E. Worthen Arena. The Cardinals fell 3-2 in five sets. Connor Smith, DN

Tying his career high in kills with 22 in last Friday’s win over California State Northridge, sophomore outside attacker Kaleb Jenness set a new career high Thursday at No. 12 George Mason (3-2, 0-0 EIVA) with 26.  However, the Patriots (4-1, 0-0 MIVA) ultimately had the edge over the Cardinals (3-2, 0-0 MIVA), taking the match, 3-2.

The match was reminiscent of last season’s battle between the two teams, which saw Ball State win in five sets. Head coach Joel Walton said he thought George Mason took the match due to missed calls and the lack of a replay review system. The Patriots took the fifth, 18-16. Prior, Ball State had tied the match at two sets apiece after falling down, 2-0.    

“The last ball that Jenness swung at, there was a clear touch off the block, and it didn’t get called,” Walton said. “We should have still been playing — it should have been a dead point, 17-17. It’s frustrating — I like the review system, it’s not perfect. It would have been nice to have it tonight in those critical moments.”

Despite the loss, Walton said he saw quality production both offensively and defensively. In addition to his 26 kills, Jenness posted a .388 hitting percentage.

“Kaleb was a go-to guy for us tonight,” Walton said. “When we could be in system and work him into situations, he was pretty terminal. He was a handful for George Mason and really helped us work our way back into the match.”

On the defensive front, Ball State saw strong production from junior setter Quinn Isaacson, who also tallied a career high with 17 digs. Isaacson ended the match with a .600 hitting percentage, a team high on the night.

The first set began in competitive fashion, but a 7-1 run by the Patriots gave them the advantage early on. George Mason took the first, 26-24, off a kill from outside hitter Richie Hoff. 

The Patriots took their energy into the second, earning a 25-16 win. Later in the set, Walton put sophomore outside attacker Brandon Shepherd into the match, who made his collegiate debut. 

“We knew we weren’t passing well,” Walton said. “George Mason, with their current lineup, has four guys who were serving float serves. Brandon Shepherd likes to pass float serves with his hands, and he’s pretty consistent when he’s in that responsibility. We wanted to try him.”

Walton’s decision to play Shepherd paid off for the Cardinals. Ball State tied the match after taking sets three and four, with 25-19 victories in each, thanks to consistent passing anchored by Shepherd.

The sophomore outside attacker finished with five kills, one service ace and five digs. Set four also saw Jenness notch his 23rd kill of the match, good enough for a career high.

“[Shepherd] got out there and really just steadied out our passing,” Walton said. “Once we started putting the ball up to the net where we could run some offense, things turned around pretty quick.”

While Walton was frustrated with the officiating in the fifth, he credited the Patriots’ offense and consistency.

“[Sam] Greenslade played a good fifth game,” Walton said. “They did a good job getting some hittable balls in front of the right people — [Jack] Reese had a key kill for them late.”

Ball State will be back in action Saturday at NJIT for a 6 p.m. start.

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

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