Ball State snaps 3-match losing skid, upsets No. 7 Penn State

<p>Ball State men's volleyball team cheers for their seniors on senior night before the Cardinals' game against Ohio State in April 7, 2019, in John E. Worthen . <strong>Eric Pritchett, DN</strong></p>

Ball State men's volleyball team cheers for their seniors on senior night before the Cardinals' game against Ohio State in April 7, 2019, in John E. Worthen . Eric Pritchett, DN

The old saying “practice makes perfect” paid off for Ball State Men’s Volleyball (4-3, 0-0 MIVA) Friday. Coming off three consecutive losses, the Cardinals upset No. 7 Penn State (4-3, 0-0 EIVA) in their fifth consecutive road contest. 

“In practice, we worked on some of the things we hadn’t been good at the previous weekend,” head coach Joel Walton said. “We’re intentionally not practicing real long during this stretch of road matches. We’re doing a better job at when we went out of system or when a ball is way off the net.”

The win marked the Cardinals’ first this season against a ranked opponent. In addition, Friday’s win was the first road win for Ball State against a ranked opponent since taking down Purdue Fort Wayne in a five-set battle March 14, 2018. At the time, the Mastodons were ranked 15th. 

“It’s always great to go into a Big Ten school and come out with a W,” Walton said. “Our program does that on a regular basis. We’re fortunate that we get to play teams from a lot of different conferences across the United States.”

Throughout the match, the Cardinals were able to take care of the Nittany Lions’ offensive inconsistencies. Penn State suffered 25 attack errors, while the Cardinals outhit them .273 to .147. Defensively, senior libero Nick LaVanchy led Ball State with seven digs. 

While Ball State has used depth to its advantage this season, eight of the 11 Cardinals who played in Friday’s match saw action in all three sets. In comparison, only six of the 13 who played in last Saturday’s three-set loss at NJIT did the same.  

“There were things working in our favor tonight,” Walton said. “Our guys showed up, and they really wanted to compete. We played Penn State in their secondary gym, so that was probably an environment they weren’t as comfortable in.”

The first set began in back-and-forth fashion. The Nittany Lions held a 23-20 lead before three consecutive kills from sophomore outside attacker Kaleb Jenness tied the match at 23 apiece, forcing a Penn State timeout. 

Set one ultimately ended up going the distance. A service ace from senior setter Jake Romano gave the Cardinals a 30-28 win in extra points.

Though Romano saw action in two of Friday’s three sets, it was junior Quinn Isaacson who spent the majority of Friday’s match at the setter position. Isaacson finished with a perfect hitting percentage in addition to 29 assists and two kills.

Both teams showed plenty of grit throughout the second set. Though following a tie at 14, the Cardinals went on an 11-5 run to end the set on a high note, led by another three kills from Jenness. The sophomore outside attacker led the team Friday with 11 total. 

While the Nittany Lions kept it close throughout the third, a .389 hitting percentage gave Ball State a 25-20 win for the sweep. 

Walton said the win was a huge momentum booster for his team moving forward. The Cardinals end their season-long six-match road trip Saturday at Saint Francis for a 7 p.m. first serve.

“Penn State had some big wins at home last weekend against some West Coast teams, and they’ve got a big match tomorrow night with Ohio State,” Walton said. “They probably thought Ball State was one where they could just write a W on the board, and our guys chose not to let that happen tonight.”

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

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