In its final push for the Mid-American Conference (MAC) title, Ball State fell Saturday afternoon to Western Michigan, 3-0 (25-20, 28-26, 27-25), inside the Broncos’ University Arena.
By sweeping the Cardinals this weekend and extending its winning streak to 15 matches, Western Michigan (25-2, 15-0 MAC) secured the MAC regular season crown and the opportunity to host the conference tournament.
“We were right there,” Ball State head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said. “It can be very, very frustrating because we had chances to win in two of the sets and just couldn't find a way to finish.”
Though the Cardinals’ hopes of hosting the MAC tournament were dashed this weekend, their 11 conference wins have already secured their spot in the postseason. Consequently, it’s possible for Ball State to earn a rematch with the Broncos in tournament play.
“I think now we know what to expect,” Miller Phillips said. “We know what to see, and next time we go out and play whoever it is in the tournament time, it's just going out and nothing to lose.”
Though Western Michigan defeated Ball State in only three sets, the Saturday afternoon clash was tightly contested, much like the match played the night before. Each team traded scoring runs throughout the match, ultimately resulting in 29 ties and 12 lead changes across the three frames.
The Cardinals nearly captured both the second and third sets, each of which were extended to overtime points. Ball State was, especially, well-positioned for a victory in the third frame as it clung to a 24-22 lead before dropping five of the last six points to close out the match.
“It’s just a matter of getting over that hump when you have set point,” Miller Phillips said.
The second half of the weekend series also mirrored the Friday night match in the strong hitting displays from both teams. The Cardinals and Broncos logged 49 and 53 kills, respectively, and both squads hit at over a .275 clip.
Redshirt freshman outside hitter Aniya Kennedy led the Cardinals’ offense with 17 kills, marking her 20th double-digit kill performance this season. Fifth-year middle blocker Marie Plitt posted Ball State’s top hitting percentage (.647) in her 11-kill outing.
Freshman outside hitter Kendall Barnes enjoyed a strong afternoon alongside Plitt and Kennedy, as her 10 kills set a new high in her young career.
“She runs a little bit faster tempo ball, and I felt like that was one of the things we were trying to just get a little bit more space,” Miller Phillips said.
Junior setter Megan Wielonski enjoyed another fine outing in Kalamazoo as she followed up her 49-assist performance on Friday with 40 assists, seven digs and three kills in the second match of the weekend slate.
Though Western Michigan carved out an advantage on the offensive end — which made the difference in late-set scenarios — Ball State posted stronger defensive numbers than the Broncos.
The Cardinals logged 57 digs and six total blocks, each mark eclipsing those posted by Western Michigan. Fifth-year libero Havyn Gates paced the red and white in digs (12), while sophomore opposite Madison Buckley and freshman middle blocker Camryn Wise shared the team-high in blocks (three).
Ball State (14-12, 11-4 MAC) will return to Muncie next weekend for its final homestand of the season. The Cardinals will take on MAC West division foe Northern Illinois (8-19, 6-9 MAC) Friday, Nov. 10 and again Saturday, Nov. 11. Both contests will start at 6 p.m., and Saturday’s match will feature Senior Day festivities.
“We want to continue to build some momentum going into the tournament, and, obviously, we have a large group of seniors that we want to come out and just play our hearts out for in their last two matches in Worthen,” Miller Phillips said.
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