Heading into this weekend’s two-match series against Quincy (4-9, 1-9 MIVA), Ball State (10-4, 7-3 MIVA) was tied for third place in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association and were looking for some added momentum after last week’s 3-2 victory over Ohio State.
After this weekend’s series with the Hawks, the Cardinals earned the momentum they were looking for with a 3-1 win Friday and a 3-0 sweep Saturday. The Cardinals now have four games remaining before the conference tournament.
“It’s always nice to get two road wins,” head coach Joel Walton said. “We served really well Friday night, and then tonight we passed a lot better than Friday night.”
In the first match, Quincy never led in the first two sets, as the Cardinals took an early four-point lead to start the series. They would later go on a 5-0 run in the second set and never looked back. Ball State would win the first set 25-18 and the second 25-15.
The third set was different for the Cardinals, as they hit for a zero hitting percentage with 11 kills from 31 attacks and a game-high 11 errors. Despite the challenges hitting the ball, they only lost by a score of 25-23.
“We kind of ran into a third game where we just didn't pass very well and made some errors,” Walton said. “It was interesting talking to the guys after the match because they said they thought the balls might have been a little bit flat. We passed pretty cautiously most of the night, and we weren't getting the ball up to the net. It made it harder for us to run as much offense in the middle as we wanted to.”
Ball State turned it around in the fourth and final set, having their highest hitting percentage of the night with .346 and winning 25-16 finishing the match.
The Cardinals had both a balanced offense and defense Friday night, with nearly every Cardinal contributing. Junior and graduate student outside attackers Kaleb Jenness (15 kills, two aces) and Blake Reardon (14 kills) led the offense.
Senior setter Quinn Isaacson finished with five aces in a school-record, four sets. He also led Ball State with 40 assists. Junior outside attacker Nick Martinski had four aces which tied for fourth in the Ball State record books.
Senior libero Colin Ensalaco and sophomore middle attacker Wil McPhillips led the defense with nine digs and five blocks. Martinski also helped on the defensive side of the ball with six digs and four blocks.
“I think that's the sign of a good team when you have a number of different players who are each contributing to make the team play well and function well,” Walton said. “Quinn’s [Isaacson] five aces were really critical, and a number of those came kind of late in a couple of the games.”
In Saturday's match, the Cardinals never gave the Hawks a chance to win a set. Ball State took advantage of three 3-0 runs and a 5-0 run in the first set. They also had their second-highest hitting percentage of the season at .625, to win 25-17. In the second set, the Cardinals went on two separate 3-0 runs to win 25-21. In the third and final set, the Cardinals added three more 3-0 runs, including the final three points of the match, giving Ball State the 25-19 win.
“I liked the fact that tonight our offense was really spread out,” Walton said. “We were able to get all three of our outsides going and we had a decent number of balls to our middles as well.”
The balanced offense and defense that was seen Friday night from the Cardinals were again put on display Saturday night, with Jenness (14 kills), sophomore outside attacker Bryce Behrendt (14 kills) and Reardon (13 kills) leading the attack. Ensalaco (Five digs) and Junior middle attacker Felix Egharevba (Three blocks) led the defense.
“Our offense ran even better tonight than it did last night," Walton said. “We put a lot of pressure on them and sided out at a really high percentage. We were able to mix our lineup a little bit and give different guys playing time, and we had a lot of different guys on the court do good things.”
With the two victories, Ball State placed itself into a second-place tie with McKendree (8-3, 7-3 MIVA) and Loyola Chicago (11-3, 7-3 MIVA), the two teams remaining on the Cardinals’ schedule.
“I think it's really important that we take each match one at a time,” Walton said. “We'll prepare for a match with Loyola Friday night and then turn right back around and get ready to play them on Saturday and do the same thing as we go on the road against McKendree. But we control our destiny, and the thing I'd like to see us do is win our next four matches.”
Loyola Chicago is the next team on Ball State’s schedule with matches next Friday and Saturday in Worthen Arena. It will be the final two home games on the Cardinals’ schedule, and the first serve is set for 7 p.m. both nights.