Head coach Joel Walton was on the verge of tears. Not of sorrow, but of joy — it was the last match of his coaching career inside Worthen Arena.
But not his last match ever.
Before the first serve, Ball State Athletic Director Beth Goetz thanked Walton for his 23 years at the helm of the Cardinals and wished he and his team good luck as the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Tournament kicked off Saturday night.
After No. 4 Ball State Men’s Volleyball’s (12-7, 9-5 MIVA) 3-1 quarterfinal victory (31-29, 25-19, 21-25, 28-26) over No. 5 Ohio State (9-10, 8-7 MIVA), Walton hurried to the announcer’s microphone before anyone left to thank the fans for attending.
“Having what our guys are used to, which is a Worthen Arena crowd that was certainly loud, into the match and weren't sitting on their hands for sure helped us,” Walton said. “They wanted [a win] just as much as our guys did on the court.”
Walton said it was fitting that his home coaching career ended with a win over Ohio State. For the past 23 seasons as head coach, Walton said, he has always considered the Buckeyes as Ball State’s biggest rival.
“Three of the years that I [played for Ball State], it was basically Ball State, Ohio State and Fort Wayne, and we had never lost [to] Fort Wayne when I graduated,” Walton said. “So, every year, it was basically either Ball State or Ohio State that was going to go to the NCAA Tournament. Getting a win against them in my last home match is pretty meaningful.”
Ball State’s win over the Buckeyes marked the Cardinals’ first MIVA Tournament victory since 2018, when they defeated McKendree in the quarterfinals at home. Senior setter Quinn Isaacson, who finished with 53 assists and a team-high 13 digs, welcomed the thunderous cheers along with the rest of his teammates.
“It was awesome,” Isaacson said. “We heard it walking into the building, and it helps us so much knowing everyone's behind us. It really does rattle the other team, which some people don't think so but when you're back there, you start to think about it a little bit, and it was a big turning point for us in the match.”
Isaacson said this season being Walton’s last has added extra motivation for him and his teammates to win a MIVA title.
“We know that we're playing for each other,” Isaacson said, “but he's had such a tremendous season and career here at Ball State, and we just want to top it off with the best way we can for him, so we’re happy to do it.
Walton credited junior and graduate student outside attackers Kaleb Jenness and Blake Reardon, who finished with 16 and 19 kills, respectively, in the win
“A few weeks ago, we were talking about how it's really hard to win if Jenness and Reardon aren’t playing well, and those guys showed up big tonight at the right moments,” Walton said. “Kaleb's serving run there toward the end [of the match] that got us into the lead was huge, and Blake's offense all night long was just really spectacular.”
Contributing alongside them, junior middle attacker Felix Egharevba followed up his record-breaking 16 blocks by finishing with seven, his second-highest total of the season. Sophomore outside attacker Bryce Behrendt added eight kills, four digs and three blocks for the Cardinals.
“I'm so grateful to Ball State for the opportunity to have coached here, and I told the guys in the huddle afterward to be road warriors now,” Walton said. “I'm not ready to stop — I want to keep going for at least as long as I can this season.”
With the win, the Cardinals advanced to the MIVA Tournament semifinals, facing No. 1 Lewis April 17. The Flyers swept Ball State in the regular season, but Isaacson isn’t worried at all about his team’s chances heading into the match.
“Those are in the past,” Isaacson said. “We want to be the best, and right now, they are the best, so we’ve got to go out and beat the best.”