Ask any fan what makes sports great and one answer sure to come up is rivalries.
In men’s volleyball, that rivalry is Ball State and Ohio State.
The two programs share a rich history, having battled 206 times before Saturday night, with the Cardinals coming into the match with a slim 107-99-1 all-time lead. The 207th meeting was nothing short of a battle either, with the two teams trading sets like investors trading GameStop stock.
However, at the end of the night, it was the Buckeyes (5-6, 4-3 MIVA) standing tall with the 3-2 victory and the upset win over the Cardinals (7-2, 4-1 MIVA).
“It's disappointing because I feel like our team is a very capable team, and Ohio State is a team we should be able to beat,” head coach Joel Walton said. “They weren't serving well, and we didn't really take advantage of that.”
The first set was back-and-forth, with both the Buckeyes and Cardinals trading runs throughout. Ohio State had an 18-13 lead after a five-point run, but Ball State would follow up by scoring seven of the next eight to take a 20-19 lead. The Buckeyes, though, finished the set on a 6-2 run to win 25-22.
The second set told a different story. The Cardinals jumped out to an early lead and aside from the Buckeyes tying the match up at 17, Ball State held its ground and won 25-23.
The third and fourth sets, much like the first and second, were total opposites of each other. The Buckeyes took the win in the third set 25-20, but the Cardinals took the fourth 25-19.
Then it came down to the decisive fifth set — where neither team could string two points together until Ohio State took a 9-7 lead, forcing Walton to call a timeout. After the timeout, the Buckeyes lead grew to 11-8, which forced Walton to call his second and final timeout to try and bring his Cardinals back to life.
“On offense, we just struggled producing all night long,” Walton said. “[The Buckeyes] were much more consistent. It's kind of a deadly combination when you allow a team to have two attackers that catch fire and then you're not generating an offense on your side .”
Despite finishing at the top of the stat line in digs (seven), blocks (five) and aces (two), Walton said he attributed the loss mostly to Ohio State’s ability to figure out graduate student outside attacker Blake Reardon.
“He's got to develop some different shots over on the right side,” Walton said. “We're not running him very effectively out of the back row, and it's allowing teams to throw blockers over toward our left sides, and we've got to get Reardon going on the right side of the net so that we're harder to defend.,”
After playing its previous seven matches at home, Ball State will now embark on a five-match road trip, starting with a two-match series against No. 3 Lewis March 5-6.
“We're still in the thick of it for the top spots in the MIVA,” Walton said. “It's got to be a moment where our guys sit back and assess where we're at. If you want to win matches against the top teams in the MIVA, you've got to show up and earn that win because it's not anything that's gonna be handed to you.”