Coming off a quarterfinal exit in last season’s Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Tournament, Ball State will rely on a greater sense of cohesion and an improved offense in hopes of gaining its first MIVA title since 2002.
“I like the depth we have on this year’s team,” head coach Joel Walton said. “There’s competition in every position. It provides an opportunity for us to mix different groups on the court — depending on who the opponents are, different schemes.”
Last season, the Cardinals continuously searched for offensive consistency through utilizing a variety of lineups. While Ball State finished second in the MIVA in kills in 2019 with 1,412, the team will look to improve last year’s team hitting percentage of .248.
Ball State will turn to two of its four freshmen in hopes of gaining a balanced offense: outside attacker Bryce Behrendt and middle attacker Wil McPhillips. Behrendt was recently named the Wisconsin boy’s volleyball athlete of the year.
After last season’s MIVA quarterfinal loss to McKendree, Walton said, improvements on defense are a priority heading into the 2020 season. On defense, the Cardinals welcome freshman libero Sammy Adkisson, who gained a spot on the team through a walk-on tryout last fall.
“We’re shifting back to seeing some areas in our defense we need to work on,” Walton said. “We’re working on improving our blocking and some of our backcourt defense. The game is very complex, and there’s always something we need to work on.”
Ball State’s freshman class is rounded out by setter David Flores, who is looking to gain experience under the team’s current setting duo of senior Jake Romano and junior Quinn Isaacson.
“Even though Flores isn’t the tallest setter out there, his ability to locate the ball we’ve seen to be very effective in our practices,” Walton said. “We’re pleased with the job Flores is doing, and he’s done a good job connecting with the team.”
This season, the Cardinals will once again turn to senior outside attacker Matt Szews as a key contributor on offense. Last season, Szews led Ball State in kills with 383 and tallied 39 service aces, also a team-high.
Szews said he has high expectations entering his senior season with the Cardinals, but his goal is simple: lead by example.
“It’s a little scary,” Szews said. “I have to do what I can to show everyone else on the team, especially our young guys.”
With his freshman season under his belt, the Cardinals will also look to sophomore outside attacker Kaleb Jenness as a leader on offense. Jenness said he is excited to begin his sophomore campaign after being named to the 2019 MIVA All-Freshman Team.
“I feel more confident on the court when I’m playing,” Jenness said. “I don’t have as much doubt in myself. I feel like we have a really good team, and I trust everyone on the team.”
The Cardinals will begin the season at Worthen Arena with back-to-back matches against Belmont Abbey and Queens Jan. 10 and 11. However, Ball State will then play its next six of eight matches on the road before opening MIVA play at home against McKendree Feb. 13.
“The non-conference portion of our season is going to give us an opportunity to try out different lineups and see how they perform together,” Walton said. “It also gives us an opportunity to continue to hone in our defense and work on those areas until we get to conference play.”
Despite a road-heavy start to the 2020 season, Walton said his confidence is high for the Cardinals to improve on last season’s success while remaining balanced both on offense and defense.
“I think the potential for this group to play competitively with anybody in the country is very clear and obvious,” Walton said. “We just have to stay motivated and work together to achieve the things we want to heading into this season.”