"Pretty mediocre" offense enough for Ball State to sweep season opener

<p>Ball State Men's Volleyball players prepare for a serve Jan. 10 in John E. Worthen Arena. The Cardinals swept Belmont Abbey in the first match of the Active Ankle Challenge. <strong>Connor Smith, DN</strong></p>

Ball State Men's Volleyball players prepare for a serve Jan. 10 in John E. Worthen Arena. The Cardinals swept Belmont Abbey in the first match of the Active Ankle Challenge. Connor Smith, DN

In volleyball, many teams would describe a sweep on opening night as an ideal way to start a new season.

Ball State Men’s Volleyball (1-0, 0-0 MAC) did just that Friday in a 3-0 victory over Belmont Abbey (1-1, 0-0 Conference Carolinas). However, head coach Joel Walton described his team’s offensive rhythm as “pretty mediocre.”

“Offense continues to be what we’ve got to get better at,” Walton said. “We’ve got to be more consistent there and figure out ways to find the court. [Kaleb] Jenness had balls in his wheelhouse, but he was just missing. We picked up way too many errors.”

In his first match of his senior season, outside attacker Matt Szews echoed off Walton’s attitude. Szews led the Cardinals in kills with seven, tied with senior outside attacker Blake Reardon.   

“We hit a lot of errors, and most of them were hitting errors,” Szews said. 

Walton said consistency in hitting percentage is a focal point of improvement for the Cardinals. In Friday’s match, Ball State hit .133 while committing a combined 31 service and attack errors.  

“The fact that Jenness finished hitting negative and barely got to positive — that’s not good enough,” Walton said. “We had control of some games. We’re ahead 19-11, and all of a sudden, it’s closing up.”

That 19-11 lead came in set one. While the Crusaders went on a 10-6 run to end the set, the Cardinals were ultimately able to take the set off a kill from Jenness. 

Set two saw both teams trade multiple one- and two-point leads before a 6-2 run by the Cardinals forced a Crusader timeout. Ball State rode its momentum to finish the set on a high note with a 25-20 win heading into the third.

Despite Ball State’s offensive woes, Walton said he was pleased with his team’s serving abilities in the win. The Cardinals finished with eight service aces, led by the three from sophomore middle attacker Felix Egharevba. 

“I thought our serve did a nice job,” Walton said. “We had eight aces on only 12 misses to their four aces.”  

In set three, Ball State carved out a 25-17 win to end the match, this time off a service ace from junior setter Quinn Isaacson. Szews said he was pleased with his team’s serving.  

“We took [the Crusaders] out of system a lot,” Szews said. “Our ability to go on runs of two, three or more points really helped us get in front of them in games. It was nice to see, and there was not much frustration from the serving line.”

Defensively, Ball State also finished with 24 digs, two fewer than Belmont Abbey’s 26. However, the Cardinals outblocked the Crusaders, 9.5-9.0.    

“[Belmont Abbey] played a lot of good defense in the back row,” Walton said. “I was surprised by that — I didn’t see that when I was watching their team play last year.”

Ball State will be back in action Saturday against Queens for night two of the Don Shondell Active Ankle Challenge in the first-ever meeting between both teams. 

“I’m kind of curious to see if this group can come out and play a second night,” Walton said. “I know we’ve got some guys on the bench who can help us. I don’t know if we’ll go with a different starting group tomorrow night, but I’m not going to be reserved about getting other guys in.”

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

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