The last time the Cardinals played a match was Dec. 6 of 2019.
13 months later and Ball State Women’s Volleyball (2-0, 2-0 MAC) looks to defend its 2019 Mid-American Conference championship. They are off to a successful start, as they defeated Akron (0-2, 0-2 MAC) in the first two matches of the season.
The Cardinals won the first match 3-0 and the second 3-1. Not only did the Cardinals win both matches, but they also did it without head coach Kelli Miller Phillips. Assistant coach Fritz Rosenberg will be filling in for the time being, as Miller Phillips is on maternity leave.
“The team made it easier,” Rosenberg said. “I thought we executed really well on our side of the net, and that was kind of the focus coming in.”
Despite being in a different role, Rosenberg is just happy to finally coach a match. With the fall season postponed due to COVID-19, the Cardinals are used to practicing and playing against each other and not in real matches.
“You can’t replace in-game coaching,” Rosenberg said. “To be in a different role, I am viewing it from a different perspective. It has been a lot of fun and it is a fun team to be coaching right now.”
Akron returned four of its six starters this season and Rosenberg said he was proud of how Ball State was able to control the ball and play well against Akron’s strengths.
“Serving and passing,” Rosenberg said. “I thought we were excellent in those two areas. It is what we hang our hat on. I think Akron is a really tough serving team so to come out and hang with them there said a lot where we are at.”
Friday night, freshman defensive specialist Kate Vinson played in her first-career match and had a match-high 36 assists. She credited her team for making her feel comfortable.
“I thought it was really nice to have the upperclassmen believe in me and give me a lot of confidence during practice,” Vinson said. “They really helped me stay calm and steady throughout the game.”
Not only did Vinson have 36 assists, she had eight digs and contributed all over the floor. Rosenberg credited her hard work in practice for having an all-around performance.
“It is how she plays every day in practice,” Rosenberg said. “It is just how she plays and she was just herself. She had great serving, which I think goes under the radar. She had great defense. She also got some touches on blocks and set a pretty good offense.”
Senior outside hitter Kia Holder led Ball State Friday night with 10 kills followed by sophomore outside hitter Natalie Mitchem with eight.
Saturday night wasn’t as smooth sailing for the Cardinals in spite of the 3-1 victory. Ball State lost the first set 25-21. The Cardinals ended up winning the final three sets and Mitchem attributed trust to the success.
“We were really confident after we lost that first set,” Mitchem said. “We knew we could still beat this team, and we trusted each other. That first set didn’t really phase us, and we knew we had to come out better those next three sets.”
Mitchem and sophomore middle blocker Marie Plitt led Ball State with 14 kills which is a team-high for the season. For Mitchem, she attributed her play to getting acclimated with herself and the setters.
“I was being dynamic and getting on top of the ball,” Mitchem said. “In the beginning, I was a little early to the ball, but as we kept going, I started to get my timing right and started to connect with the setter a lot more.”
Holder had 12 kills Saturday night followed by sophomore outside hitter Natalie Risi’s eight kills and 17 digs. Sophomore defensive specialist Maggie Huber led the Cardinals with 22 digs. Vinson topped her 36 kills from Friday night and had 38 in the second match.
Plitt said that while these two wins are huge for momentum, they can’t rely on it going forward and take it one day at a time.
“It is huge,” Plitt said. “These wins mean a lot to us, and every single game means a lot to us. We are going to take this and put it in our back and continue on.”
Ball State will travel to Buffalo Thursday, Jan. 28 for the first of two consecutive matches against the Bulls in two days. Thursday’s match starts at 6 p.m.
Contact Ian Hansen with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ianh_2.