Jenness' dominance, balanced offense gives Ball State 5-set win

<p>Senior outside attacker Blake Reardon jumps to serve the ball Jan. 11 in John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State defeated Queens, 3-0. <strong>Jacob Musselman, DN</strong></p>

Senior outside attacker Blake Reardon jumps to serve the ball Jan. 11 in John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State defeated Queens, 3-0. Jacob Musselman, DN

Notching 11 combined kills in last weekend’s season-opening victories, sophomore outside attacker Kaleb Jenness doubled that figure in Ball State Men’s Volleyball’s (3-0, 0-0 MIVA) 3-2 win over California State Northridge (1-4, 0-0 Big West) Friday.

Jenness’ 22 kills Friday tied his career high. After missing the Cardinals’ last five matches of 2019 due to injury, head coach Joel Walton said he was impressed with Jenness’ efforts but credited a balanced offense in extending the Cardinals’ win streak to three matches.  

“You need to have a variety of guys who can produce offense,” Walton said. “Otherwise, it becomes too easy for your opponents to stack their defense against one or two places that you want to go.”

The five-set battle saw the Cardinals generate balanced offense, with senior outside attackers Matt Szews and Blake Reardon as well as sophomore middle attacker Felix Egharevba all reaching double-digit kills. 

Ball State also finished the night with nine service aces, two apiece coming from Reardon, Szews and junior setter Quinn Isaacson. Isaacson’s 59 assists also tied a career high.

“Felix did a nice job tonight and gave us good offense,” Walton said. “Blake had some moments where he was getting some really critical kills. It is nice that we had a good team effort and contributions from a lot of different places.”

The Matadors took set one, 25-20, and began set two up, 14-6. Then, in a significant momentum shift, the Cardinals went on a 12-4 run to tie the set at 18. 

Ball State never looked back, as a 25-23 win in set two tied the match in a “remarkable comeback,” as put by the Matadors’ play-by-play announcer.

“In set two, we were behind by a number of points,” Walton said. “That was a pretty critical moment in the match. If we would have gone down 0-2, it was going to be difficult for us to have the confidence and work our way back in.”

Set three followed a similar storyline to the second, with both teams constantly trading leads. Although Ball State carried its energy from the second, the Matadors took the third, 28-26, in extra points. 

The Matadors continued to keep it close, but the Cardinals never faced a deficit in set four, aside from beginning the set down one. A 5-0 run by Ball State, including three kills from Jenness and a service ace from Isaacson, tied the match.

With both teams wanting an early-season win, set five saw similar action to the fourth, but it was the Cardinals who were able to come out on top with a 15-12 win to take the match.

“We had a nice lead in game five before it tightened up,” Walton said. “We had to make some pretty critical plays down the stretch.”

In their second test of a six-match road trip, the Cardinals will stay in the Golden State and travel approximately 90 minutes north to face No. 4 UC Santa Barbara Saturday. Walton said Friday’s win gives the team an extra boost before facing one of the top programs in the country.

“Our guys are going to have to be good students of scouting reports tomorrow,” Walton said. “The few keys that we’ve given them — we’ve got to be good with those things. I think we need to serve tough.”

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

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