Ball State Men's Volleyball struggles to maintain pressure at NJIT

<p>Senior setter Jake Romano sets the ball Jan. 11 in John E. Worthen Arena. In the Cardinals' second and final match of the Active Ankle Challenge, Ball State swept Queens. <strong>Jacob Musselman, DN</strong></p>

Senior setter Jake Romano sets the ball Jan. 11 in John E. Worthen Arena. In the Cardinals' second and final match of the Active Ankle Challenge, Ball State swept Queens. Jacob Musselman, DN

Prior to Saturday, Ball State Men’s Volleyball (3-3, 0-0 MIVA) had never been on the short end of the stick against the New Jersey Institute of Technology (4-2, 0-0 EIVA). However, the Cardinals’ 10-match win streak against NJIT ended Saturday, as the Highlanders were victorious, 3-0. 

The Cardinals are now .500 on the season after starting the new year undefeated. After a five-set loss to No. 12 George Mason Thursday, head coach Joel Walton said the Highlanders were too much to handle. Prior to Saturday’s match, the Highlanders had knocked off fellow MIVA opponents McKendree and No. 11 Purdue Fort Wayne. 

“This was probably the best NJIT team we’ve ever seen,” Walton said. “They’ve got a group of kids who are from a lot of different countries, and they’re experienced. They’re just playing good volleyball right now.” 

Offensive inconsistencies proved to be too much for Ball State throughout the match, suffering 18 attack errors while being outhit, .163-.425. The Highlanders were led by the likes of opposite Julian Meissner and outside hitter Jens Feldthus, combining for 30 of NJIT’s 44 kills. 

Walton said his team did not have the same energy as usual at the outside attacker position, as Matt Szews and Nick Martinski had been battling illnesses since Thursday. Szews finished with eight kills and a .120 hitting percentage in the loss. 

“We were able to get two decent nights out of Matt Szews,” Walton said, “but I’m sure by the end of tonight he was exhausted.” 

Set one began in favor of the Highlanders. Ball State battled its way back on a 6-1 run, highlighted by freshman middle attacker Wil McPhillips’ first-ever service ace at the collegiate level. However, a multitude of attack and service errors proved costly for the Cardinals, and NJIT took the first, 27-25, in extra points. 

The Highlanders could not be stopped heading into the second. A 16-8 lead by NJIT forced Ball State to take its second timeout of the set.

“They put pretty good serving pressure on us tonight for most of the match,” Walton said. “The other thing that happens when you’re playing a team doing that is it’s hard to get your offensive rhythm going. That’s another place where you look, and we just really struggled.”

Momentum remained in favor of the Highlanders for the rest of the second, taking the set, 25-16. Similar to Thursday’s contest at George Mason, the Cardinals found themselves down by two heading into the third.

While the Cardinals couldn’t catch a break in the early stages of the third, both sides eventually found themselves tied at 15 apiece. Back-and-forth action for the rest of the set forced the teams to head to extra points for the second of three sets. 

Unlike Thursday’s loss at George Mason, Ball State was swept, as the Highlanders took the final set, 26-24. 

Coming off a career-high 26 kills at George Mason Thursday, sophomore outside attacker Kaleb Jenness once again led Ball State with 10 kills on the night. Defensively, he also tallied eight digs, also a team high. 

Ball State will be back out East to resume its five-match road trip Friday at Penn State. Walton said the Cardinals are continuing to take each match as a learning experience before MIVA play rolls around in February. 

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Walton said. “The fact we’re going on the road again just continues to be a challenge for our guys. There are a lot of learning opportunities in these matches, and our guys have to look at it as such.”

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

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