LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In 1995, ‘Toy Story' hit theaters for the first time, Ball State Women’s Volleyball defeated Loyola Chicago in the first round of the NCAA tournament and no volleyball player currently on the Cardinals roster was born.
It took 26 years for Ball State Women’s Volleyball (30-3, 17-1 MAC) to recorded another victory in the NCAA tournament, as the Cardinals ended their drought with a five-set victory against the University of Michigan (18-12, 11-9 BIG10) Dec. 3 in Lousiville, Ky.
“I’m so excited right now,” junior middle blocker Marie Plitt said. “It’s a great feeling. Knowing that freshman year we did win the MAC tournament, but this year we’ve reached so many other goals that we’ve wanted to accomplish that we haven’t been able to do in our three years yet.”
The Cardinals opened the match with a 25-17 victory, but the Wolverines evened the contest with a 25-22 set two win.
“I think once we settled in a little bit, we were like, ‘this is just another team across the net,” Plitt said. “They're good, but we’ve got to play our game. I think everyone just came together and did a great job."
Ball State bounced back with a 25-18 set three victory, before losing set four 27-25. Once set five arrived, Plitt said the Cardinals knew it was theirs for the taking.
“We have always said the fifth set is our set and we’re going to go out there and give it our all and that’s what we did,” Plitt said.
The Cardinals won set five 15-8 to make history.
“It’s a really big moment, it’s huge,” head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said. “As a player, I got to experience similar things and I know how great it feels. It’s just a totally different feeling [now]. Being on the side of their coach and enjoying it for [the players].”
Plitt hit a season-high 20 kills against the Wolverines and added two blocks. Junior outside hitter Natalie Risi rotated around the court, smashing seven kills, recording 17 digs and a solo block.
“It always comes down to serve, pass and defense,” Risi said. “We just trusted the process and trusted all the work that we put in prior to now. Sticking to our basics and sticking to what we know works.”
Plitt and Risis combined with graduate student outside hitter Jaclyn Bulmahn, junior outside hitter Natalie Mitchem and sophomore middle blocker Lauren Gilliland for 64 total kills against the Wolverines.
Ball State’s backcourt was paced by 39 combined digs from junior defensive specialist Maggie Huber and junior defensive specialist Havyn Gates. Freshman setter Megan Wielonski contributed 52 assists to what Plitt said was an all around team effort.
"We had great passing so I was able to get the ball,” Plitt said. “Megan's an awesome setter, I can't thank my team enough for my success. Everyone had some success tonight and that's why we pulled it off.”
The traveling Cardinal fans made the arena feel like Ball State’s home court, Worthen Arena — where the Cardinals finished 13-0 this season.
“Fans have been awesome,” Phillips said. “We had a great crowd coming out of the MAC tournament. We were fighting for tickets left and right and that’s how we knew how much excitement was building. It’s about family and it’s not just about our players. It extends to their families and everybody who is so pro-Cardinal and all about Ball State. It makes it really special when you can have your families along the journey with you. That’s what this group has and it’s so much more fun.”
The Cardinals return to the court Dec. 4 for the second round of the NCAA tournament. Ball State plays Louisville (29-0, 18-0 ACC). First set is 6 p.m.