That was the feeling going through sophomore outside attacker Bryce Behrendt’s head when he made his Ball State home debut in the first match of a back-to-back home series against Lincoln Memorial (1-4, 0-0 IVA) Jan. 28.
However, Behrendt led the Cardinals (3-1, 0-0 MIVA) in their first-ever match (and win) against the Railsplitters, marking their first appearance in Worthen Arena since March 7, 2020. Ball State jumped out to early leads in each set and never looked back in its 3-0 (25-13, 25-17, 25-19) sweep of the Railsplitters.
“[Behrendt] passed well and blocked well — he was our leading blocker (three), point-scorer (13.5) and kill-getter (11),” head coach Joel Walton said. “He played a really solid match all the way around.”
Aside from one Ball State yellow card, the first match didn’t feature much drama. Some standout players for the Cardinals were junior outside attacker Nick Martinski (eight kills, five digs), senior setter Quinn Isaacson (23 assists, eight digs, two blocks) and senior libero Colin Ensalaco (six digs, four assists).
“We played pretty error-free, which I think is huge,” Behrendt said. “I think that all stems from our team's passing, and we passed really well. That gives [our] setters great opportunities to set up our outsides, right sides and middles with some really nice balls which gave us an easier time swinging.”
The second night — albeit resulting in a Ball State win — told a different story than the first as the Railsplitters kept the Cardinals in check, taking set one and nearly winning set two.
However, Ball State kept its composure in set four and walked away with a 3-1 (25-16, 23-25, 25-18, 29-27) win Jan. 29.
“[Lincoln Memorial] made much fewer errors [Friday],” Walton said. “[Thursday], they made a lot of serving errors and gave us points — easy points at times. Tonight, they were much more consistent.”
On the Cardinals’ side of the net, Walton said he was pleasantly surprised with sophomore middle attacker Wil McPhillips’s consistency over both matches. In match one, he finished with seven kills for a well above-average .875 hitting percentage. He added another seven kills for a .455 hitting percentage and a career-high six blocks in match two.
McPhillips wasn’t the only Cardinal with a career-setting night in Friday’s second match. Junior outside attacker Brandon Shepherd also set some career-highs of his own. He set personal bests in just about every category: total points scored (20.5), kills (16), digs (seven), in addition to aces and blocks (three apiece).
The biggest difference between the two nights for Shepherd came down to self-confidence.
“I just knew that I wanted to be on the court and play to the best of my ability with confidence — staying high, swinging well and just focusing on my block,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd scored the match-winning kill in Friday’s fourth set, preventing a tie-breaking fifth.
“I was like, ‘I do not want to go to five,’” Shepherd said. “It was kind of like an off-ball, and I just wanted to place it deep and force them to move around. It just worked out in my favor, so it was very exciting. I enjoyed every bit of it.”
Top Ball State performers in match two included graduate student outside attacker Blake Reardon (22 kills, eight digs, four blocks), senior middle attacker Will Hippe (five blocks, two aces) and Isaacson (49 assists, 10 digs, one ace).
“We had a couple of interesting plays with the ball that Blake partially blocked, and it had come down to digs,” Walton said. “We were able to turn to transition to score some points. We took some better swings later in the game, and Reardon made some errors at critical times in a couple of games, but he was also a guy that we relied on late.”
Ball State’s wins against Lincoln Memorial gives them a three-match win streak heading into another two-match home series Feb. 5-6 against Purdue Fort Wayne, when the team opens Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association play.