Tinaishe Ndavazocheva’s 2023 debut season was among the finest for a first-year Cardinal in recent memory. The Zimbabwe native recorded 3.60 kills per set at a .402 hitting percentage last year, which earned him a spot on the Preseason All-Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) Team leading into the 2024 campaign.
Despite his momentum and preseason accolades, the junior outside hitter was unable to play in Ball State’s first nine matches. Ndavazocheva made his long-awaited return against No. 13 USC on Friday in the First Point Collegiate Challenge, hosted in Austin, Texas.
Although the 14th-ranked Cardinals fell to USC (5-0) in a four-set match (21-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-21), Ndavazocheva posted a commanding offensive performance in his season debut.
The 6-foot-6 hitter opened his outing with a kill on his first swing, which was an early preview of what was to come over the course of the match. Ndavazocheva slammed 23 kills at a .326 hitting percentage, as he led Ball State’s efforts on the attack.
“It means a lot to be back because that's why I'm here,” Ndavazocheva said. “The team is like my family, so it's more like you're just doing something for the family, and I'm just grateful for that.”
Ndavazocheva was not exclusively a contributor to Ball State’s offense, as he manufactured a multi-faceted performance that featured six service aces and two blocks. In total, he recorded 30 of the Cardinals’ 68 total points.
Ball State head coach Donan Cruz highlighted Ndavazocheva’s versatility, and he expressed his satisfaction with the Cardinals’ 10th starting lineup in as many matches.
“He just obviously provides a really efficient offensive attacker, providing front row and back row opportunities,” Cruz said. “With this being our first first match with this lineup, I thought we played well.”
Although Ball State’s acclaimed outside hitter posted a high-scoring performance, the Cardinals came up short of victory in a tightly contested match. Across the four sets played Friday afternoon, the lead changed hands nine times, and the score was even on 30 occasions.
“I think we’re showing our potential, and I think it's clear the things we really need to work on,” Cruz said. “At moments we looked really good, and then at moments we just had a lot of missed opportunities.”
The red and white’s lone set win came in the opening frame, which they took by a commanding 25-20 margin. Ball State’s efficient offense was critical to its set one victory, as it posted a .368 hitting percentage.
The Cardinals’ hitters eventually slowed their pace as the match progressed, posting 53 kills at a .197 clip after four sets. Behind Ndavazocheva and his 23 kills, sophomore outside hitter Patrick Rogers (11 kills) and junior opposite hitter Aaron Hernandez (six kills) helped pace the red and white’s attack.
Freshman setter Lucas Machado directed the Cardinals' offense in a starting capacity for the third time in his young collegiate career and produced a career-best 46 assists, three kills and four blocks.
Machado’s notable effort on the block was just one piece of a successful performance from Ball State’s blockers. The red and white logged nine total blocks, a performance which was highlighted by six blocks in the opening set. Junior middle blocker Vanis Buckholz and graduate student middle blocker Wil McPhillips tied Machado for the team lead in blocks (4).
Buckholz, in his third season as a key contributor on the red and white’s block, applauded the Cardinals’ efforts early in the match.
“The block started off good, and then throughout the game, it started to get scrappy on both sides,” Buckholz said. “So, I would say with USC being scrappy and us being scrappy, that led to less blocks.”
Ball State’s defense, which held USC to a .148 hitting percentage in set one, also recorded 42 digs — nine more than the Trojans. Freshman libero Cameron Gray paced the red and white with nine digs, and he was followed by Hernandez and Rogers, who each registered eight digs.
Ball State (7-3) will return to the Austin Convention Center tomorrow at 5 p.m. to take on No. 8 Stanford (4-0). Ndavazocheva said the Cardinals are focused on making improvements for long-term success in their final match of the First Point Collegiate Challenge.
“Coach Cruz was just telling us after the match that ‘of course we lost, but we are doing all of this for the matches in May,’” Ndavazocheva said.
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