Slow start, inconsistencies hurt Ball State against No. 14 Purdue Fort Wayne

Road trips and rivalries — two aspects of sport that do not necessarily come easy to many players. Beginning a five-match road trip against MIVA opponents, that was the case for Ball State Men’s Volleyball (8-5, 1-2 MIVA) in a 3-1 loss to No. 14 Purdue Fort Wayne (7-4, 2-2 MIVA) Friday. 

Throughout the entire match, both offenses showed they had something to offer. However, Ball State head coach Joel Walton said it was his team’s defense that was a cause for concern the majority of the match. While the Cardinals led the Mastodons 44-26 in digs, they were also outblocked 13-7.5 

“We just didn’t do a good job defensively in those moments,” Walton said. “We have some things that we could have taken advantage of, and we didn’t.”

For Ball State, set one began in a very similar fashion to last Saturday’s loss against Lewis. A 14-7 deficit forced the Cardinals to take their second and final timeout of set one. While the Cardinals’ play slowly improved as the set progressed, it was not enough, as the Mastodons took set one 25-18. 

Inconsistencies early on have been a major factor for Ball State lately. Friday marked the third consecutive match Ball State has fallen behind in the first. The Cardinals suffered 11 attack errors as well as a -.038 hitting percentage in set one, combined with seven blocks from Purdue Fort Wayne. 

“We just got off to a horrible offensive start — a number of attack errors, errors on our side, serving errors,” Walton said. “We dug a hole. We kind of fought back into that game to make it a little closer, but the hole we dug because of how we started was too big.”

Walton said a troubling trend surrounding his team in the first came from inconsistencies and a lack of energy in his veteran players.

“We need them to play well in these moments,” Walton said. “If they don’t, then it’s really hard for some of the younger guys to step in, come off the bench and pick things up.”

Facing a “hole” for the third time in as many matches after the first, Ball State began to pick it up in the second. Set two was nearly a complete reverse for the Cardinals in terms of blocking and hitting percentage, two areas where Ball State struggled early. Outhitting the Mastodons .419-.235, and a 4-1 advantage in blocks was enough for the Cardinals to take the second 25-21.

Then, set three began. Unlike the Cardinals’ consistency in set two, the third followed a similar rhythm to the first, with Ball State taking both of its timeouts after a 14-9 lead by the Mastodons.

Though greater balance on offense kept it close for the remainder of the set, the Mastodons took the third 25-20. Sophomore outside attacker Kaleb Jenness led Ball State in kills on the night with 17, and freshman middle attacker Wil McPhillips held a perfect hitting percentage through the two sets he played. 

Set four saw both offenses push one another, but it was the Mastodons who held a 16-12 lead early. However, that was before an 8-5 run by the Cardinals to trim the deficit to one, forcing a Purdue Fort Wayne timeout.

Both teams traded points for the next two rallies. With the Mastodons up 22-21, Walton said, a service error from senior outside attacker Matt Szews hurt the Cardinals. The Mastodons took the fourth 25-22 to win the match. 

“That’s a really key moment where you need somebody who’s got experience and got leadership on your team to step up,” Walton said. “That didn’t happen — the next thing you know, we’re down 21-24, and the game’s pretty much over.”

Continuing its road trip, Ball State will be back in action Saturday at Loyola. The Cardinals have not won in Chicago since 1999. 

“We’ve got to clean up our play,” Walton said. “We need to make sure we understand the things Loyola likes to do, step on the court and execute a good game plan.”

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

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