After defeating Purdue Fort Wayne (3-3) in their last match, the Cardinals traveled to Omaha, Nebraska, Sept. 1-3 for the Blue Jay Invitational and looked to continue their success. However, that wasn’t in the cards this weekend, as Ball State (2-4) finished the tournament winless.
“The overall theme for this whole weekend was just inconsistency with our serving and passing,” head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said. “Our passing was a little bit all over the place, and that made it really difficult for us to have an offensive rhythm.”
Friday, Sept. 1: No. 20 Creighton (3-2, 25-19, 25-27, 21-25, 25-16, 15-11)
The Cardinals began their journey in the invitational Friday with a match against the host, No. 20 Creighton (4-1). The final result was not what the Cardinals hoped as they fell 3-2 in their first 2023 match against a ranked opponent.
“We certainly can compete at a really, really high level,” Miller Phillips said. “The key for us this year is going to be how we can sustain playing at that high level.”
The Blue Jays took the first set, but Ball State battled back to take the next two. To redshirt freshman middle blocker Aniya Kennedy, this showed the Cardinals can hang with the best, even despite the loss.
“If we just continue to play that kind of volleyball,we can prove to ourselves that we're capable of [playing good opponents] and that we deserve to be one of the top 40 teams [in the nation],” Kennedy said.
But after taking the second and third sets, the Blue Jays rebounded and took the last two sets, handing Ball State its first loss of the weekend.
Saturday, Sept. 2: Northern Iowa (0-3, 25-20, 26-24, 25-19)
The Cardinals attempted to get back on track as they faced the University of Northern Iowa (3-2) the next day. Instead of finding success, Ball State was swept in three sets.
This was when Miller Phillips thought the Cardinals serving issues were at their worst.
“We have to be able to steady our passing to be able to get our offense going a little bit more consistently,” she said.
Amidst the negative, there was one highlight in the match against the Panthers. Kennedy set a career-high with 16 kills.
“[Before the match,] I just told myself that I'm here for a reason,” she said. “Just to compete, and don't think too much about anything.”
However, her efforts didn’t stop in this match. She finished the tournament with a Ball State-high 42 kills and five blocks. To Miller Phillips, Kennedy did her job well.
“She competed hard, she was really physical, and she did not back down from three really good teams,” Miller Phillips. “I think that is going to continue to give her confidence and [give] the rest of the team confidence.”
Sunday, Sept. 3: LSU (3-1, 19-25, 25-14, 25-13, 25-23)
In the Cardinals last match of the invitational, Ball State took the court against Louisiana State University (LSU). During the previous two matches, the Cardinals started multiple sets down by significant margins, but this time, the Cardinals turned up the heat and took set one.
Then, the Tigers turned the tables and used similar energy to take the next two sets. This led to a competitive set three in which both Ball State and LSU (2-3) traded blows.
“We talked about [that energy] in the locker room afterward,” she said. “Even though we're not playing our best volleyball right now, we're still hanging with big physical teams like LSU.”
Despite the competitive fire, the result didn’t favor the Cardinals as the Tigers defeated Ball State for their third straight loss.
“I think that the biggest thing that we need to work on is believing that we can do things instead of just hoping,” sophomore opposite Madison Buckley said. “...[We need to] believe that we will get the next point.”
Buckley was another Cardinal who stood out during the invitational. She finished the weekend with 26 kills and 12 blocks. Even after being swept, she thought the three matches showed something positive.
“We have all the pieces,” she said. “We have everything, even though we might’ve not put it together in the right way yet. But we are going to get there and when we do, we're going to be great.”
The Cardinals will attempt to get back on track when they face Wright State (2-4) in their opening match of the Dayton Tournament Friday, Sept. 8, at 5 p.m.
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