Milestones matter. Just ask Ball State head coach Joel Walton.
Coming off a four-set loss to in-state rival No. 14 Purdue Fort Wayne Friday, it was a complete turn of events for Ball State Men’s Volleyball (9-5, 2-2 MIVA) in a 3-2 win over Loyola Chicago (5-10, 2-3 MIVA) Saturday. The win was the first for the Cardinals in Chicago since 1999. However, what mattered most for the team was the victory marked head coach Joel Walton’s 400th win at Ball State.
“It was a really critical conference road win, within our league that’s very competitive this year — winning at a place we haven’t won since 1999,” Walton said.
Winning in comeback fashion, Walton said he credits a strong all-around performance from his players in helping him achieve this milestone.
“It’s a real, proud moment,” Walton said. “I’m just really pleased with the job the guys did. They kept fighting their way back after being down, not letting pressure take over in a couple of key moments at the end of game three and when we were trailing in game four.”
Although the win was an emotional one for Walton and the Cardinals, Ball State got off to a slow start in set one. Similar to Friday’s contest at Purdue Fort Wayne, the Cardinals fell behind early on in the first, before an improved offense guided Ball State to tie the set at 20 apiece. Despite the late efforts, the Ramblers took set one 25-23.
The Cardinals’ balanced offense paid dividends throughout set two, but both sides battled it out as the set progressed. However, a 4-0 scoring run by the Ramblers gave them the edge in extras, taking the set 26-24.
“The guys were crazy enough to believe me when I got in the locker room and said, ‘I think we’re a better team,’” Walton said. “It’s one thing to say that in the locker room — it’s an entirely different thing for the guys to go out and play the way they did to make that happen.”
Ultimately, set three began in favor of Ball State. The Cardinals’ energy was too much to handle for the Ramblers, beginning the set up 16-8. Throughout the entire match, a major part of that energy came from senior outside attacker Blake Reardon, who set career-highs in both kills (26) and digs (15).
“We had a lot of great offensive performances from a lot of people,” Walton said. “Reardon not only led us in kills but he also led us in digs tonight. We want to see our seniors compete, and that was a job well done by him.”
After leading by eight in the third, the back-and-forth action resumed. Though Loyola’s offense continued to persist, Ball State took set three 25-22 to send the match to four sets.
It was all Loyola to begin set four, as the Ramblers took a 12-6 lead to start the fourth. After calling their second and final timeout of the set though, Reardon and the Cardinals showed they had something to prove. Ending the match on a high note, Ball State took the fourth 25-23 to tie the match.
On the verge of completing the comeback, there was no denying the Cardinals to begin set five. Ball State began the fifth on a 7-1 run, and while the Ramblers continued to show signs of grit, the Cardinals took the fifth 15-8 to seal the comeback.
In addition to Reardon’s performance, sophomore outside attacker Kaleb Jenness also played an integral role for Ball State’s offense Saturday, notching 23 kills. Junior setter Quinn Isaacson tallied a career-high 67 assists and added 10 digs.
“[Isaacson] did a good job running our offense, getting good balls in front of people for them to swing at,” Walton said. “Kaleb had some critical kills for us. For a while, it was kind of Kaleb taking over our shoulders saying ‘we’re gonna get this done and do what we need to do to win this game.’”
Continuing its Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association road trip, Ball State will be back in action Friday at Lindenwood.