As the line judge's coin flipped on the second court, freshman Andrew Hayward followed its trajectory downward toward the court until it settled with a bounce by his feet.
His opponent opted to receive the serve to begin the first game, something Hayward looked unsure of. He closed his eyes and stepped back to stand alongside graduate student Vince Orlando, his doubles partner.
Hayward was about to play his first home match as a Cardinal.
“It was a little nerve-wracking, but knowing the guys have my back and you know coming out and playing with ‘Vo’ a fifth-year veteran definitely helped give me confidence,” Hayward said.
Hayward stood ready, sharply returning the fast-approaching ball from his opponents into an area of the court that they could not reach.
He erupted with emotion, sending a scream across the room which echoed, hugging his doubles partner. 38 minutes later, they claimed the match 6-4.
The success in court 2 spread across Ball State's home courts propelling them to sweep their first home meet against Eastern Illinois, 7-0.
This parallels the last time the two teams met last season, a year ago today, where Ball State also swept the Panthers at home 7-0.
“We just came out with energy and confidence. That's really what happened in the match, we came out rolling,” Hayward said.
The Cardinal's first point on the board came from their success today in doubles.
Like Hayward and Orlando, the duo of sophomore Jacks Lancaster and junior transfer Mason Tran fought to win their doubles match. After 40 minutes, they finished with a score of 5-4.
Team veterans red-shirt junior Sajin Smith and junior Petar Petrovic put their all into their match which closed Ball State double play with a 7-5 win.
“You know, our doubles is a work in progress right now, we didn't play very well yesterday, we did what we had to do today,” head coach Bill Richards said. “We played a couple of different players in doubles, overall to get some extra guys in there early in the year to get some experience.”
Richards says the success held in doubles today was encouraging to start the season, as that area of play has been ‘iffy’. However, he said the team's true success showcased itself in single play.
Here, junior Nathaniel Webster, sophomore Broc Fletcher and fifth-year Eli Herran saw their first action of the day alongside their team's double participants aside from Petrovic and Orlando.
Fletcher and Hayward took 5-0 game leads in their first sets, Hayward later swept, while Fletcher won 6-1.
Each player was meticulous within their play, placing the ball exactly where they wanted to, outsmarting their opponents.
“Everybody's got their strengths and weaknesses and it's, you know, this is an individual sport, that we really make a team sport… it was real positive today,” Richards said.
Tran and Herran played close matches, fighting to claim their first sets. This fight became a key part of their games and showcased itself in each player's endurance, as they pushed themselves to the finish line, going on to win their matches in 2 sets.
Webster and Lancaster jumped out in their matches to a 4-1 game lead, each claiming the first set.
“I just want to play at the level I'm capable of playing. And I think if we all do that, it's gonna be a good year,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster's success today echoes his most recent performance at Butler. There he also secured a singles win and played well in doubles until the match did not finish.
He says singles play is one thing, but being able to play with Tran provides a whole new boost of confidence.
“It's a great confidence booster because he gets it off the net while I typically try to get it done at the baseline. Plus, we came off a good fall [season],” Lancaster said.
Regardless of the team's success today, they made some careless errors in serves and game points. Richard says that before they play again, there's room for improvement.
“It’s all about taking things in games that players individual games that need to continue to get better and just get back to work,” Richards said. “Assess who did things well in what areas and who needs to get a little bit better in certain areas… You're just always trying to get better.”
Ball State next plays on the road Wednesday, Jan. 24 against Xavier University. A start time has yet to be announced.
Contact Trinity Rea via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on X@thetrinityrea