Playing against a first-year team has its advantages. Coming off a six-match road trip against three ranked opponents, Ball State Men’s Volleyball (6-3, 0-0 MIVA) used them in its 3-0 win over Urbana (0-11) Thursday.
In the win, a significant portion of the Cardinals’ production came from players who saw little, if any, playing time during the 2019 season. Although a win at home against a first-year team may seem like a given, head coach Joel Walton said, it was important for his new faces to gain experience in front of a home crowd.
“The opportunity to play some new guys tonight and rest some of the guys who have been carrying the load was important,” Walton said. “Every time they’re in competition, it’s a great chance for us to evaluate how they’re going to perform in a different setting. Stepping on the court in a match during live competition is different from what we see in practice.”
Ball State was led offensively on the night by sophomore outside attacker Brandon Shepherd and freshman middle blocker Wil McPhillips. Shepherd led the team in kills with a career-high 10, while McPhillips finished right behind him with nine.
Having not played in any of last season’s action, Thursday’s match was the third of the season for Shepherd. The sophomore made his season debut two weeks ago at No. 11 George Mason, but Walton said Thursday’s win gave him a valuable opportunity to prepare for MIVA play.
“We know Brandon has ability,” Walton said. “We just want to give him opportunities to step on the court and gain more experience. When we get to those tougher situations and we need him, he’ll understand what that moment means, and he’ll be comfortable doing it.”
In addition to his performance on offense, Shepherd also contributed defensively with three digs. Shepherd said he understands the learning curve of playing at the collegiate level but is eager to make the most of it going forward.
“I’ve learned to always hit aggressive and have a positive attitude,” Shepherd said. “I’ve learned to always give 100 percent because my time can come any day.”
The Cardinals also used three of the team’s four freshmen in Thursday’s win. Ball State saw production from McPhillips, setter David Flores and libero Sammy Adkisson.
“It’s fun,” McPhillips said. “Obviously, the guys have a lot of energy. I think I did pretty well offensively — I was just up and available when they needed me. I’m just working on getting more consistent.”
Adkisson made his collegiate debut late in set two before Flores started set three, substituting for a senior in Jake Romano. Flores tallied 14 assists and three digs in addition to a perfect hitting percentage in his first-ever match in the cardinal and white.
Taking last weekend’s momentum into Worthen Arena, Ball State capitalized in set one, taking the first 25-14. The Cardinals then took set two 25-18. In the second, the team’s last four points came off a service ace from Romano, followed by kills from McPhillips, Shepherd and senior outside attacker Blake Reardon.
With its third sweep in as many matches, the Cardinals went on to take the third 25-20. In the match, Ball State outhit the Blue Knights .429-.130. The Cardinals also outdug Urbana 25-19.
Sophomore outside attacker Nick Martinski also had a successful night for the Cardinals. Similar to Shepherd, Martinski did not see any playing time during the 2019 season. However, he ended Thursday’s match with a career-high seven kills.
Heading into Saturday’s match against Daemen, Walton said he is unsure how he will utilize his team’s depth. The Wildcats are in their second season as a program but are 3-1 in their last four matches.
“Saturday night becomes a bit of a juggling act because we want to give [Quinn] Isaacson, [Matt] Szews and [Kaleb] Jenness some time, but we just have to see how that match goes,” Walton said. “It’s been nice this week, being able to give some guys an opportunity to refresh.”
The Cardinals face the Wildcats at 7 p.m. Saturday in Worthen Arena.