After a 12-6 2020 campaign cut short by nine matches dashed hopes of a potential NCAA Tournament bid due to COVID-19, Ball State Men’s Volleyball is entering 2021 with the same aspirations it had a year ago.
Following the graduation of four senior players, the Cardinals return two graduate students — libero Nick LaVanchy and outside attacker Blake Reardon — who the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility as a result of the coronavirus-abbreviated 2020 season.
“We were in a good spot [last season],” LaVanchy said. “We were on a good streak, and it gave myself and some of the other guys the perspective that any game could be our last. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, but it really did suck.”
LaVanchy, who is taking advantage of what he deemed the NCAA’s “coronashirt” year, said the opportunity to play one more season was too good to pass up.
“ wasn't the right way to end,” LaVanchy said. “That was one thing that just stayed in the back of my mind, and I wasn't really ready for it to be over yet. I had a job lined up that actually fell through in the end because of the pandemic, and at that point, it made no sense not to come back.”
Ball State welcomes six freshmen to the team, including Dyer Ball — son of four-time U.S. Olympian Lloy Ball and grandson of Ball State Men’s Volleyball alumnus Arnie Ball. Dyer Ball said he doesn’t expect much playing time right away, but he hopes to better himself as a player by building team chemistry.
“I love being around [my teammates],” Ball said. “If I get to travel with them to the places that we go — just getting close with them, having good times, playing the games and hopefully winning those games — that'd be fun.”
Due to the ongoing pandemic, this season will play out a bit differently than in years past. The regular season will consist of 18 matches. Of the 18 matches, Ball State will play nine opponents, all of which will take place in a two-day span at one location with the exception of Ohio State. The Cardinals will face the Buckeyes Feb. 27 and March 13 in a home-and-away series.
The Cardinals were picked to finish third in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association preseason poll, and junior outside attacker Kaleb Jenness was named to the Preseason All-MIVA Team in December. Last season, he led the team with 246 kills.
2021 will mark head coach Joel Walton’s final season at the helm, as he will retire at the end of the season after 23 years as head coach. He currently has a coaching record of 403-230, the fourth-highest of all active NCAA men’s volleyball coaches.
“With this being coach Walton’s last season, there is probably a part of all of us in that we want to make sure he goes out on a high note,” LaVanchy said. “We don't want to lose games that we could have won or take any rep or practice lightly because this is his last season … I think everybody is in a good headspace right now, and we're really focused to be the best team we can be.”.