Ball State Men’s Volleyball (12-6, 4-3 MIVA) returned to Worthen Arena Saturday for the first time in three weeks, having finished a five-match Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association road trip. Taking advantage of their home comforts, the Cardinals defeated Sacred Heart (5-11, 0-7 EIVA) 3-0 to begin a three-match series against non-MIVA opponents.
Head coach Joel Walton said it felt nice to return to Worthen Arena after three weeks on the road. After starting this season with matchups on the West Coast, East Coast and Midwest, the Cardinals play six of their final nine matches to finish the season at home.
“I like the way we’re finishing out this year’s schedule,” Walton said. “It’s certainly something we want to take advantage of and build momentum with.”
In Saturday’s win, both balance on offense and defense was key for Ball State. The Cardinals posted a .374 hitting percentage on the night while limiting the Pioneers to .094. Ball State notched 43 digs throughout the three sets, led by 10 apiece from sophomore outside attacker Kaleb Jenness and junior setter Quinn Isaacson. Jenness also led Ball State in kills with 13.
Despite the Cardinals’ stats, Walton said he felt mixed with his team’s serving. Ball State committed 13 service errors on the night, with five coming from senior outside attackers Blake Reardon and Matt Szews — two of Ball State’s centerpieces on offense so far this season.
“I’m frustrated still by Matt Szews,” Walton said. “I think he needs to continue to get more and more consistent with his serve. Overall, our serve did a good job putting pressure on [Sacred Heart]. Our defense put a lot of pressure on them. That was a good thing and a difference maker in the match.”
Prior to the match, Walton was honored in a ceremony celebrating his 400th win with the Cardinals back on Feb. 22 at Loyola-Chicago. It was all Ball State to begin set one. Led by Jenness’ all-around efforts, Ball State began the first up 18-11, forcing a Pioneers’ timeout.
Following the timeout, Sacred Heart went on an 8-5 run to cut the Cardinals’ lead to four, but kills from senior outside attacker Blake Reardon and sophomore middle attacker Felix Egharevba gave the Cardinals the edge, taking set one 25-19.
Anchored by Jenness, the Cardinals brought their energy into set two by taking a 16-5 lead. The Pioneers then showed signs of life by going on a 5-0 run, forcing Ball State’s first timeout of the match.
However, a strong performance from sophomore outside attacker Brandon Shepherd gave the Cardinals a boost in sustaining energy for the rest of the set. After coming off the bench earlier in the second, Shepherd’s four kills after the timeout helped give Ball State a 25-15 win in taking set two.
Shepherd finished the match with eight kills and a .438 hitting percentage. After not appearing in any action during 2019, the sophomore outside attacker has seen playing time in six matches for the Cardinals this season.
“We wanted to give him some opportunities on the court to show what he’s capable of,” Walton said. “I was pleased to see him step on the court and play a good match tonight.”
Set three followed a similar rhythm to set two. Ball State never fell behind in the third, but the Pioneers narrowed the Cardinals’ lead to two or three points on multiple occasions. However, led by Jenness and Shepherd, Ball State finished set three on a 7-2 run to take the third 25-18.
Ball State will be back in action Friday vs. Lincoln Memorial for a 7 p.m. first serve. Continuing their break from MIVA action, Walton said non-conference matches remain beneficial for the Cardinals even toward the end of the season.
“This is an opportunity for us at times to try different players,” Walton said. “These are important matches to win for possible seeding in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year. Equal to that, I think it’s just the opportunity to try a few different things or work on different lineups for our team.”