Cardinals defeat Western Michigan to book place in 2021 MAC Volleyball Championship

The Lady Cardinals defeated the Western Michigan Broncos 3-1 Monday, securing their spot in the Mid-American Conference finals this Wednesday. 

When head coach Kelli Miller Phillips took over Ball State Women’s Volleyball (28-3, 17-1 MAC) in 2016, the focus was on the bright future of the program. The Cardinals moved one step closer to showcasing the program’s recent success Nov. 22. 

The Cardinals defeated Western Michigan (19-12, 11-7 MAC) 3-1 in the semifinal of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship in its quest to win its second MAC Championship in three years.

“It feels great,” Phillips said. “When you’re playing in the MAC tournament, you know it’s going to be a battle and every single one that you win is something to celebrate.”

The Cardinals swept the Broncos in the regular season, but Phillips said there is a change in every program once the tournament starts.

“We really approach the MAC tournament as a brand new season,” Phillips said. “Once that Toledo match ended, we were totally focused. Our record is back [at] 0-0. We have a good understanding that it’s anybody’s game once tournament time hits. Our girls did a great job of coming in with that type of mentality.”

Ball State showed its nerves early, winning the first set 25-23 before dropping the second set 21-25. After sorting out the nerves, the Cardinals won set three 25-17, before putting their mark on the match with a 14-point set four win.

Ball State sophomore middle blocker Lauren Gilliand taps the ball over the net and a waiting defender during the semifinals of the Mid-American Conferences Women's Volleyball tournament on Nov. 22 in Worthern Arena. The Cardinals will face off against the winner of the Bowling Green and Ohio game. Eli Houser, DN

“We had some nerves coming out in the first few sets, but we took it under control and executed very well,” freshman setter Megan Wielonski said. “We were all really hyped about this game and this tournament in general, so [it was] just taking a deep breath and playing our volleyball that we know how to play.

Wielonski led the Cardinals with 45 assists, helping junior outside hitter Natalie Mitchem, junior middle blocker Marie Plitt and graduate student outside hitter Jaclyn Bulmahn combine for 33 kills. In the back row, junior defensive specialist Maggie Huber had a season-high 27 digs and junior defensive specialist Havyn Gates contributed 14 digs. 

“Their defense was crazy, I’m not going to lie,” Mitchem said. “They were picking up every ball [and] nothing was dropping. It made it very difficult for our offense to hit against them. We just know that you have to keep pushing, keep transitioning, keep taking big swings to try and score against their defense.”

Ball State will play the winner of Bowling Green and Ohio in the MAC Championship Nov. 24. The Cardinals defeated both in the regular season. First set is 4:30 p.m. The winner will recieve an automatic bid to the 2021 NCAA Volleyball National Championship.

“Honestly, whoever is coming,” Mitchem said. “My teammate was saying that we’ve swept both of them in the regular season, so I feel like whoever we are playing we can do the same thing."

Contact Daniel Kehn with comments at daniel.kehn@bsu.edu or on Twitter@daniel_kehn.

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