Prior to Ball State’s Saturday tilt with East Tennessee State, the Cardinals had dropped eight of their last ten matches. In spite of their slow start to the campaign, the red and white kicked off their final non-conference outing with their finest frame of the season.
The Cardinals smashed 16 kills on a 0.387 hitting percentage and stuffed three blocks en route to their 25-17 first-set win, setting the tone for the remainder of the match.
On the heels of their first-frame triumph, the Cardinals cruised to a swift 3-0 (25-17, 26-24, 25-13) win Saturday afternoon over East Tennessee State.
“It feels good when you feel like you finally get that monkey off your back,” head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said. “We had to use a lot of different people; we had a different lineup yet again. I thought winning set one gave us a lot of confidence and building off that was huge for us."
The win snapped the Cardinals’ eight-game losing skid — their longest since Miller Phillips’ debut season in 2016. After the game, she praised her players for the win and said their slow start will prove to be beneficial over the course of the season.
“We didn’t bring anyone new, any new bodies,” Miller Phillips said. “We are who we are. I [am] just trying to help them understand we're a great team, [and] we played a tough schedule. And, if we just continue to stay the course, good things will happen.”
Miller Phillips attributed the streak-breaking victory to improved ball handling and to the contributions from young players who are filling in due to injuries – most notably, the absence of starting middle blocker Lauren Gilliand.
“I felt like our passing has continued to steady out, which has allowed us to be in more offensive rhythm consistently, and obviously, that really helps you to feel more confident and good about what you're doing,” Miller Phillips said.
Redshirt freshman Aniya Kennedy was the catalyst behind the Cardinals’ much-needed sweep. The 6-foot middle blocker recorded a team-high 16 kills at an efficient 0.556 clip.
Kennedy made her collegiate debut just three weeks ago, and she is now a mainstay in the starting rotation and is the Cardinals leader in kills (108). Miller Phillips praised the LaPorte, Indiana, native for her development early in her blossoming career.
“Aniya has had to play so many different roles for us already this year, but the great thing is, she's so willing to do it,” Miller Phillips said. “She puts a ton of focus in and pride into wherever we need her.”
Leading the defense was fifth-year senior libero Havyn Gates with 13 kills, and coordinating the offense was junior setter Megan Wielonski who dished out a team-high 29 assists.
Freshman Camryn Wise enjoyed another fine outing after her Cardinals debut in Ball State’s 3-1 loss to Western Kentucky. The rookie middle blocker logged two kills and five blocks.
The Cardinals (3-8) start their MAC West title defense with a conference-opening doubleheader against Central Michigan (6-5) on September 21 and 22 at Worthen Arena.
“My message [to the team] is also that a new season starts next week when we get into conference play,” Miller Phillips said. “We've learned a lot here in the last four weeks, and we've got to make sure to use what we've learned to go into the conference season.”
The MAC opener will mark the Cardinals’ first home match since the Ball State Invitational three weeks ago.
“We love our fans, and we’re ready to get back in front of them,” Miller Phillips said.