Don’t ask sophomore outside attacker Kaleb Jenness about a “sophomore slump.” Leading Ball State Men’s Volleyball (11-6, 4-3 MIVA) in kills with 233 this season — 49 more than his freshman year — Jenness’ 20 Wednesday helped give the Cardinals a 3-1 victory over Ohio State (10-8, 2-5 MIVA).
After missing the Cardinals’ last five matches of 2019 due to injury, Jenness has recorded double-digit kills in all but three of Ball State’s matches so far in 2020. In Wednesday’s win over the Buckeyes, he also played a major role defensively, tying for a team-high 10 digs alongside junior setter Quinn Isaacson.
“Kaleb was Kaleb tonight,” head coach Joel Walton said. “We’ve leaned awful hard on his offense. It was nice to have [senior outside attacker Matt] Szews matching him over on the right side.”
Supplementing Jenness’s production, a significant portion of the Cardinals’ offense Wednesday came from Szews. He finished with 17 kills in the win, second on the team behind Jenness. He also contributed a .344 hitting percentage on the night.
Walton said he was impressed by the duo’s performance in the match, especially after adjustments were made to better fit Szews’ playing style.
“We had a different matchup in game one — Szews was hitting against a different blocker and wasn’t as comfortable,” Walton said. “As the match went on, we changed that matchup, and as Szews matched up with the other left side attacker, he gained confidence and momentum.”
Although Ball State saw improved offense as the match progressed, the match did not get off to an ideal start for the Cardinals. The Buckeyes began the first up 12-4 by scoring nine unanswered, forcing Ball State to take both of its timeouts early. The Cardinals showed signs of grit later in the set, but it ultimately wasn’t enough, and Ohio State took set one 25-16.
Walton said the Cardinals’ first-set loss was a major wake-up call for his team, specifically in terms of his team’s offensive abilities.
“We just made a ton of attack errors,” Walton said. “We were really error-prone, and they got their block in some good places in the first game. I don’t think Ohio State has typically been a great blocking team this year, but we took some bad swings.”
After winning the first by nine points, Ohio State kept much of its momentum throughout set two. However, improved energy kept the Cardinals from falling behind again. With both teams tied at 23, the sides traded points for the next four rallies before a kill from Jenness and a Buckeyes’ attack error gave Ball State the edge to even the match at one.
Set three began by following a similar pattern to the second. Both sides continued to trade leads with both offenses remaining forceful. Going to extra points for the second consecutive set, kills from Jenness and Szews once again gave Ball State the advantage 26-24.
Set four was all Ball State to begin, as kills from Szews, senior outside attacker Blake Reardon, junior middle attacker Will Hippe and Jenness gave the Cardinals a 6-2 lead to quickly force a Buckeyes’ timeout. Though the Cardinals never lost their lead as the set continued, Ohio State remained persistent, cutting Ball State’s lead to 17-15.
Electing not to take a timeout, Ball State ended the match on an 8-3 run to take the set 25-18 and win in comeback fashion. The win marked the end of a five-match Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) road trip for the Cardinals.
Coming off seven consecutive matches against MIVA opponents, Ball State is now set for a three-match slate against non-conference opponents. Walton said he is not a major fan of the break in his team’s conference schedule, but Wednesday’s win provided an indication of potential strengths and weaknesses in his team’s upcoming contests.
“We have a chance now to do some things in our training, trying to correct some things or improve areas of our game,” Walton said. “That really needs to be our focus as we go through our non-conference opponents.”
Beginning their slate against non-MIVA opponents, the Cardinals will be back in action Saturday against Sacred Heart. First serve is 7 p.m.