Ball State falls to Clemson, bowing out of NIVC

The Cardinals were unable to complete a reverse sweep and fell to Clemson in the National Volleyball Invitational Championship (NIVC)

Ball State women's volleyball coach Kelli Miller Phillips talks to the team during a timeout against Northern Illinios Nov. 10 at Worthen Arena. Ball State won 3-1 against Northern Illinois. Mya Cataline, DN
Ball State women's volleyball coach Kelli Miller Phillips talks to the team during a timeout against Northern Illinios Nov. 10 at Worthen Arena. Ball State won 3-1 against Northern Illinois. Mya Cataline, DN

The last (and only) time Ball State met Clemson on the volleyball court was in September 1995, a few years prior to the introduction of rally scoring. The Cardinals cruised past the Tigers in the early season matchup, sweeping their Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) foe.

Clemson (19-13, 8-10 ACC) returned the long-standing favor Friday night, defeating Ball State, 3-2 (26-24, 25-17, 23-25, 18-25, 15-8), in the second round of the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC).

“It was another crazy battle,” Ball State head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said. “I felt like our group wasn't quite as sharp as we were yesterday, but part of that being Clemson is a big, physical team.”

Though the loss ended the Cardinals’ run in NIVC, Miller Phillips noted a few positive takeaways from the season-ending setback. Though she highlighted the red and white’s strong offensive outing, the Ball State leader was most proud of her team’s resilience to push the match to five sets.

“I thought we did everything we could do,” Miller Phillips said. “It wasn't for a lack of effort, by any means. It was just that we got beat, ultimately, by a Clemson team that played a little bit better than us tonight.”

Ball State fell in the opening two sets after being unable to control Clemson’s offensive attack. The Tigers’ hitters were, especially, potent in their 25-17 victory in the second set as they recorded 19 kills.

Though momentum resided exclusively on Clemson’s side heading into set three, Ball State turned a corner in the potentially decisive frame. The Cardinals jumped out to their largest lead of the match (10-6) and held on to their advantage — despite trailing 21-19 late in the frame — to claim the third set.

Once again facing defeat in the set four, Ball State notched its most efficient set of hitting on the evening to capture the game. The Cardinals slammed 18 kills, while just logging one attack error, en route to their 25-18 triumph in the fourth frame.

Although Ball State turned the tide in the third and fourth sets, the Cardinals came up just short of completing the reverse sweep in the decisive fifth frame. Clemson commanded a 3-0 lead early in the set and did not relinquish their advantage, as the Cardinals could not match their opponent’s front-row production.

Clemson found the winning side of the tightly contested match by hitting at an efficient rate and by capitalizing on Ball State’s service points. The Tigers recorded 71 kills at a .333 clip, and they posted a 62% side-out percentage.

Though Clemson held the slight offensive edge, the Cardinals posted an admirable effort in the front row — logging 68 kills at a .291 hitting percentage. As she did in Ball State’s first-round match, redshirt freshman opposite hitter Aniya Kennedy paced Ball State in kills (22). Kennedy was followed by fifth-year middle blocker Marie Plitt (14 kills) and freshman outside hitter Kendall Barnes (13 kills).

After entering the 1,000 club last night, junior setter Megan Wielonski logged another milestone in the Friday-night clash. Her 57 assists moved her north of the 4,000 career assists mark, making her just the sixth player in program history to achieve this feat.

“Those are some really big numbers, especially, just with her going to finish her junior year,” Miller Phillips said. “She's gonna have big expectations ahead for her senior year.”

The Ball State defense accumulated five blocks and 63 digs, similar to its per-set averages against Middle Tennessee State (1.0 blocks/set and 11.0 digs/set). Freshman middle blocker Camryn Wise posted a team-high mark in blocks (four), while fifth-year libero Havyn Gates led in digs (21).

With five underclassmen seeing the floor Friday night, Miller Phillips underscored the value of playing in the NIVC as she looks to develop the Cardinals for future seasons.

“You can only get experience by doing it,” Miller Phillips said. “We had a lot of people on the court that have never had postseason experience.”

Although Miller Phillips said the Cardinals coaching staff is still focused on supporting the current roster, she expressed her excitement for the upcoming offseason.

“In the blink of an eye, it starts back over,” Miller Phillips said. “That's part of what I love about coaching and part of what's so hard because you are so connected to this group you have put in so much time and effort figuring out this specific group.”

Contact Adam Altobella with comments on X @AltobellaAdam or via email at


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