When fifth-year senior Marie Plitt arrived in Muncie in 2019, Ball State women’s volleyball hadn’t advanced to the NCAA Tournament in eight years and hadn’t lifted the Mid-American Conference Tournament (MAC) trophy in 17 years. By the Cardinals’ lofty standards, these marks constituted a brief dry spell in the program.
Since Plitt’s first season donning the red and white four years ago, Ball State has added to its rich history. In this span, the Cardinals have compiled a 99-49 overall record, captured a pair of MAC Tournament titles and made three NCAA Tournament appearances.
“I think, in their own way, each person has a little different touch that they have added and continue to help us in different ways with on-and-off the court with building the culture,” Ball State head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said of Plitt and her fellow seniors.
The accomplished senior class was honored Saturday night on the annual Senior Day. In the match preceding the ceremony, Ball State (16-12, 13-4 MAC) defeated Northern Illinois (8-21, 6-11 MAC) in five sets (25-14, 21-25, 25-11, 19-25, 15-11).
“It's an emotional weekend, and you really want to put all your energy into playing for them,” Miller Phillips said. “I know a 3-0 sweep would have been great, but we found a way.”
As expected, seniors saw considerable playing time on their dedicated evening. The starting lineup featured three of the Cardinals’ seven seniors — Plitt, libero Havyn Gates and defensive specialist Kate Vinson. Though they didn’t start, defensive specialist Zoe Conway checked in to serve twice, and outside hitter Cait Snyder saw action in every set but the first.
Addie Halverson and Lauren Gilliand were unable to play due to injury, though they were each honored in the post-match ceremony.
Plitt led the group on the court, posting 10 kills at a .233 hitting percentage, five total blocks and seven digs. The 6-foot middle blocker ranks first in program history in sets played (544), and fifth in both kills (1,282) and total blocks (416). In addition to her statistical marks, the product of Loveland, Ohio, also earned First Team All-MAC honors twice (2021 and 2022) in her career.
“You can look at the statistics and all of that, but I think for her, she is just someone every day you don't have to worry about,” Miller Phillips said. “She's gonna do what she needs to do. She's gonna work hard.”
Gates carried over the momentum earned from eclipsing the 1,000-dig mark Friday night by leading the Cardinals in digs (20). The Muncie native arrived at Ball State after spending two years at Indiana Wesleyan and has appeared in all 95 matches in her three-year Cardinals career.
Snyder, a 2022 First Team All-MAC honoree, posted eight kills in the Senior Day win, and Vinson, a four-year letter winner, logged eight digs.
Though two seniors were sidelined on Senior Night, each of them led accomplished careers during their time in Muncie.
Gilliand — a 2020-21 All-MAC Freshman Team honoree — will graduate as one of the top blockers in program history, ranking 15th in total blocks (319) and block assists (260).
Halverson only saw action in one season (2022) after transferring from Jacksonville State, though she made an immediate impression in her sole campaign. The native of Spring Grove, Illinois, enjoyed a 19-kill outburst against South Florida (Aug. 26, 2022).
Although seniors made considerable contributions in the win, a number of underclassmen filled the box score. Redshirt freshman outside hitter Aniya Kennedy paced the Cardinals in kills (22), and junior setter Megan Wielonski logged a double-double, with 57 assists and 12 digs.
Following the red and white’s victory, many of the Cardinals’ seniors were filled with emotion as they reflected on their Ball State careers and their final match in the arena where they amassed dozens of wins.
“I'm so happy to have gone through this program,” Plitt said. “It's meant the world to me and I’m also sad to be leaving everyone. It's just been such an amazing experience through and through, from year one to year five.”
Vinson, a native of nearby Yorktown, expressed her appreciation for the Ball State fans who have supported her class over the past four seasons.
“They love our team,” Vinson said. “They love our culture, what we stand for and I think they just enjoy coming to all of our games.”
Saturday night marked the senior class’ final match inside Worthen Arena, but one final regular season match (against Toledo on Nov. 15) and a postseason slate lie ahead for the Cardinals.
Plitt highlighted her class’ vision to extend their careers by advancing deep into the conference tournament and, potentially, into the NCAA Tournament.
“It's not over yet, so we’ve still got one big one on Wednesday and then at the tournament run,” Plitt said. “We're just focusing one day at a time, and then one game at a time.”
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