The famous quote, “There’s no place like home,” has not resonated with the Cardinals (5-5 MAC) these past two weeks.
After facing a sweep at the hands of Bowling Green, Ball State could not play keep up with Northern Illinois (4-6 MAC), once again in Worthen Arena. The Huskies swept both matches, and the Cardinals have now lost four in a row after starting the season 5-1.
Assistant coach Fritz Rosenberg led the Cardinals in Thursday and Friday’s matches after head coach Kelli Miller Phillips returned last week against the Falcons.
“NIU played really well,” Rosenberg said. “I think they were able to stay in their system most of the weekend, and we weren’t able to really rattle them too much in terms of what they wanted to do with their offense…I thought we did better on defense [Friday], but it’s nowhere near where we need to be competitive in the [Mid-American Conference] right now.”
Here are five takeaways from the series.
Huskies’ offense generates pressure
After hitting .209 in Thursday’s win, Northern Illinois expanded on that mark and hit .305 Friday. Huskies’ sophomore outside hitters Kaitlyn Bell and Katie Jablonski were forces for Northern Illinois, tallying 24 and 22 kills over both matches, respectively.
Rosenberg described the Huskies’ offense as quick. He has become accustomed to the challenges that Northern Illinois has brought over the years.
“It’s a tough system to stop if you’re not serving aggressive,” Rosenberg said. “[The Huskies] were in system a decent amount and able to run their offense. It’s a handful — no matter what year you play Northern Illinois, their offense is always very tough to defend.”
On Ball State’s side of the net, senior outside hitter Kia Holder led the offense with 21 kills over both days. She also chipped in defensively with two digs in Thursday’s loss.
Depth is a ‘double-edged sword’
The Cardinals saw eight players generate at least one kill over both matches, but Rosenberg described his team’s depth as a “double-edged sword.” Just under a month into the season, Rosenberg said, he is continuously evaluating who is go-to players are to help the Cardinals escape tough moments.
“We have a lot of people that can contribute,” Rosenberg said. “Right now, we’re trying to figure out which ones are going to be leaned on and reliable night in and night out.”
With just two upperclassmen on Ball State’s roster, Holder and junior defensive specialist Cathryn Starck, Rosenberg acknowledged the challenges of having a young team and working to better his players.
“There’s some growing pains that we’re going through and some lessons to be learned,” Rosenberg said. “We’re asking [our players] to carry some big roles in terms of leadership and production.”
Bolser establishes her presence
Despite Friday’s loss, redshirt freshman middle blocker Cailyn Bolser was a part of said depth and made her mark. After appearing in just four sets over three matches, including Thursday’s loss, Bolser chipped in with five kills and hit .250 Friday.
Rosenberg viewed Bolser’s performance as a positive and said he was happy to see her get quality playing time after redshirting for a year. While middle blocker is Bolser’s natural position, Rosenberg said he got creative and slotted her into positions that would maximize the team’s makeup.
“I thought she did well for the first match of her career,” Rosenberg said. “I think she has a bright future ahead of her.”
Focusing on the fundamentals
With four road matches looming and having lost five of their last six, Rosenberg said the Cardinals need to improve in multiple aspects of the game as they work toward defending last season’s MAC Title. To return to a winning style, Rosenberg said, the Cardinals will need to sharpen their fundamentals moving forward and ensure those translate come gameplay.
“I think we’ve got too comfortable of letting some little things go,” Rosenberg said, “and they’re starting to catch back up to us. Our schedule certainly does not get any easier than at home for the last two weeks.”
Missing the Cardinals’ matches against the Falcons due to an undisclosed injury, sophomore defensive specialist Maggie Huber returned to the lineup. She tallied 24 digs and added seven assists over both matches.
The Cardinals will begin a four-match road trip beginning Feb. 25-26 against Western Michigan. First serve for Thursday’s match is 7 p.m.