Heading into the weekend, Kent State (11-4 MAC) and Ball State (6-9 MAC) were both trending in similar directions. The Golden Flashes had gone 1-3 in their last four matches while Ball State went 1-6 in its last seven.
However, the Golden Flashes came into Muncie and defeated the Cardinals twice in fewer than 24 hours. Kent State won both matches 3-2 and 3-1, respectively, as the Cardinals continued sliding down the Mid-American Conference West Division standings.
“We had some really good moments and some moments of below our average,” head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said. “Our key the rest of the season is going to be figuring out how to find that consistency — from set to set and match to match.”
In the first match Thursday night, the Cardinals fell short of the upset win after taking a 2-1 lead before the Golden Flashes won the final two sets.
Ball State won the first set 25-21 behind a combined 12 kills from freshman and senior outside hitters Cait Snyder and Kia Holder, respectively, and a team hitting percentage of .417.
Sophomore middle blocker Marie Plitt added to the kill total in the second set, contributing five points to her team. Holder stayed consistent by adding five kills of her own along with two blocks, but it wasn’t enough as Kent State won 25-23.
The Cardinals got back on the right foot in the third set, holding the Golden Flashes off in the end and winning 25-22. The fourth set, however, saw Kent State pull far away from the Cardinals, winning 25-14, and matching the Cardinals worst loss in a set this season.
A three-point lead wasn’t enough for Ball State in the fifth set. The Golden Flashes closed in, tied the match at 14 and forced extra volleyball. In the end, Kent State earned a 17-15 victory and won the match.
“Sometimes, we get tight as the match wears on, and that’s when our passing gets a little array and our offenses, by default, are going to drop some,” Miller Phillips said. “And then, I think we have to maintain our patience and take smart shots as the match gets tighter and goes longer.”
Despite the loss, Snyder tallied a career-high 14 kills and Holder tied her second-highest kill total with 19.
“Cait [Snyder] fulfilled the role with [Natalie] Risi not being 100 percent healthy right now, and I thought she did a nice job of coming in and doing some good things offensively,” Miller Phillips said.
The second match of the series saw a change of scenery Friday, as the two teams faced off in the Jo Ann Gora Student Recreation and Wellness Center. The Cardinals came into Friday’s match with high-octane energy — and with every point they scored, every student who walked by on the catwalk stopped to see what the noise was about.
The Cardinals' early energy carried them to a 25-18 first-set victory. However, the Cardinals’ shortcomings slowly crept up on them as the match progressed.
The second set was the exact opposite of the first. The Golden Flashes found themselves up 20-13 — same as the Cardinals in the first — and an over-the-net violation ended a potential comeback for Ball State as the Cardinals lost 25-19.
Both the third and fourth sets went in favor of the Golden Flashes. The Cardinals made multiple mistakes down the stretch, losing 26-24 and 25-16, respectively.
“We are a young team, and we've got to continue to learn to just trust ourselves and find some consistency,” Miller Phillips said. “That's going to make a huge difference in match outcomes.”
Snyder finished with a double-digit kill total for the second straight day (13) and had 10 digs. Holder led the Cardinals in kills with 17 while also adding six blocks.
The Cardinals will face Miami (Ohio) (7-6 MAC) Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Worthen Arena before hosting Central Michigan March 19-20 for a two-match series.
“[Making the MAC Tournament] is probably not gonna be in our hands at this point in time,” Miller Phillips said. “We've got to find a way to win these games and continue to battle, and then, we're going to need some help from other people because only four teams are going to get in. All we can do is focus on what we can control.”