Give head coach Joel Walton a night, and he could tell you 30 different stories about the rivalry between Ball State (5-1, 2-0 MIVA) and Purdue Fort Wayne (0-2, 0-2 MIVA).
“They're going to talk to you through the net,” Walton said. “They're going to do anything they can to distract you and tie their shoes a million times to slow down any kind of momentum that we build...Perspective is an interesting thing because we thought they were the worst guys ever, and they thought the same about us.”
Friday and Saturday marked the 110th and 111th all-time meetings between the two schools dating back to 1980. For the first time since 2018, the No. 15 Cardinals got back into the win column against Purdue Fort Wayne, winning the first match Friday 3-1 (25-22, 23-25, 25-19, 25-20) and earning the sweep Saturday 3-0 (25-21, 25-14, 25-22), opening Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association play.
“There have been a period of years where I don't think our team gave them enough respect,” Walton said. “I think our guys were putting their focus on other teams in our conference, and we weren't expecting [Purdue] Fort Wayne to play us as tough as they were.”
The first match of the weekend was closer than the final score indicated with the Cardinals and Mastodons battling in close sets each game. The Mastodons tied the match at one after losing the first set, but the Cardinals came back firing on all cylinders.
Senior middle attacker Will Hippe was a standout player for the Cardinals in match one, recording a career-high nine kills and adding four blocks.
“I've been really pleased with him through this point in the season,” Walton said. “He's been consistently our blocking leader in the middle.”
Junior outside attacker Kaleb Janness also stepped up in the first match, recording 15 kills, 10 digs, four blocks and a .290 hitting percentage.
“[At the start of the match,] I was struggling,” Jenness said. “I was getting a lot of out-of-system balls. I was trying to get kills off of them when it wasn't ideal. I got subbed out, came back in and I started hitting a different bag of tricks — some lines, some tips, some roll shots and just different swings in normal. They seemed to be effective, and it ended up being a good night when me and Quinn [Isaacson] started connecting.”
The Cardinals rode the wave of momentum from Friday’s win into Saturday, this time sweeping the Mastodons as Purdue Fort Wayne had trouble sustaining any sort of run.
“I didn't expect to win 3-0,” Walton said. “I expected a hard battle, and I think the way that we started our focus in the first few games made it difficult for Fort Wayne to get any kind of momentum going. [Our guys] are showing that they have the ability to play volleyball at a very high level. They're showing that they're very competitive.”
Jenness finished the second match of the weekend with nine kills, three digs and three blocks — totaling 27 kills, 13 digs and seven blocks through both matches.
“It was tough at the beginning of the year.” Jenness said. “I struggled last year in the beginning, too, but it just takes a little getting used to. We haven't played a lot, and we’re playing teams we haven't played before, so there's limited scouting. There are a lot of changes that you just have to adjust to. I wasn’t adjusting well in the beginning, but hopefully, from now on I'll be doing good.”
Saturday’s win over the Mastodons gave Ball State its fifth consecutive win heading into next weekend’s two-match road series against No. 3 Lewis (6-1, 1-1 MIVA), with matches taking place Feb. 12-13.
“Two nights in a row in [Lewis’] gymnasium is going to be hard,” Walton said. “Lewis is returning a lot of experienced players from last season, so to say that it's gonna be a hard and focused week of practice is probably an understatement. I'd like to go up to Lewis, play well and show them what this year's Cardinals are capable of, and then, we'll see what happens next weekend.”