Public-address announcer Steve Shondell continuously used his nickname of sophomore outside attacker Kaleb Jenness Thursday night in Worthen Arena. With a team-leading 21 kills, Jenness led Ball State Men’s Volleyball (8-3, 1-0 MIVA) to a 3-1 victory over McKendree (7-5, 1-1 MIVA) in its Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association opener.
Despite ending his freshman campaign early due to injury, Jenness has been a key contributor for the Cardinals’ offense this season. Currently, he leads Ball State in kills with 127. He was one of two players to hit double-digit kills for the Cardinals Thursday, as senior outside attacker Matt Szews totaled 16.
“Kaleb’s kind of driving the ship,” head coach Joel Walton said. “He’s doing a really good job. Szews wasn’t super sharp tonight — he had some kills for us but also some errors. The two of those guys have done a nice job, and [Blake] Reardon did a nice job off the bench.”
Thursday was a rematch of last season’s quarterfinal between the two teams, which saw the Bearcats defeat the Cardinals in a five-set battle. In addition to not being able to play in last season’s quarterfinal, Jenness said Thursday’s match was different for the team compared to last year.
“Last time, we had a lot of injured people,” Jenness said. “We had actually had our full squad this time to play them. It was a lot different, especially at home, so I thought we had a lot of great energy from our fans and everyone on the court.”
In addition to 21 kills, Jenness ended Thursday with a .356 hitting percentage, but a team hitting percentage of .216 was not enough to get the job done for Ball State in the first set. The Bearcats took set one 25-23, ending the Cardinals’ run of 12 straight sets won.
Things turned around for the Cardinals in set two, as Ball State upped its hitting percentage from .216 to .400 over both sets. The Cardinals began the set up 17-11, but a 3-0 run from the Bearcats forced Ball State’s first timeout of the set. Ultimately, momentum remained in the Cardinals’ favor, as Ball State tied the match with a 25-20 win in set two.
McKendree never held a lead of more than one point in set three, as Szews and Jenness’ offense propelled the Cardinals to a 25-21 win in the third. However, it was set four when the tables began to turn.
A combination of the Bearcats’ offense and multiple attack errors gave McKendree a 13-8 lead to begin the fourth. While the Bearcats remained persistent on offense, the duo of Jenness and Szews led a 10-5 rally to tie the set at 18, capped off by a service ace from junior setter Quinn Isaacson.
“That’s our guys just fighting, fighting for points,” Walton said. “We fixed something that we were failing at when we were playing out on the East Coast against NJIT and George Mason. We had some opportunities where we made a play, and we didn’t get a good ball up for someone to swing at in transition. The guys have worked really hard over the last few weeks on being better in that moment.”
Following a Bearcats timeout, McKendree went on a 4-0 run to gain a 22-18 Bearcats lead. However, Ball State then went on a 5-0 run to secure a 23-22 lead, with all points coming off kills — three from Szews and two from senior outside attacker Blake Reardon.
After another Bearcats timeout, McKendree scored two for a 24-23 lead, but three Bearcats attack errors proved costly to end the set. Ball State took the fourth in extra points 26-24 to win the set in four matches.
Finishing Thursday’s match with a career-high 17 digs, senior libero Nick LaVanchy said his team’s defense played a major role in sustaining momentum throughout the fourth.
“In that fourth set, we dug ourselves a hole,” LaVanchy said. “We had to fight in every single play to get out of that, and we had a lot of guys making plays on defense. Once it was a tie ballgame at 18-18, we just outfought, and we gave it everything we had.”
Ball State will end its four-match homestand Saturday against Lewis for a 7 p.m. start.