Ball State’s pair of 3-0 losses to BYU last weekend marked the first time the Cardinals had fallen in consecutive sweeps since 2021. Junior opposite hitter Aaron Hernandez underscored how the losses to the Cougars fueled their preparation in practice this week.
“I think the losses at BYU were a really good teaching moment for us,” Hernandez said. “It was the first time in our season that we’ve been tested, and we got to see how we played. We grew from it.”
The No. 13 Cardinals recovered from their setbacks a week ago by downing No. 17 UC San Diego (2-2) on Thursday evening, in a three-set victory (28-26, 25-13, 25-20).
“We spoke at BYU: We were just in a tough spot,” Ball State head coach Donan Cruz said. “All we're concerned about when we finish matches is how we prepare for the next one, and I thought our guys embraced that challenge. UCSD is a really good team.”
The triumph marked the Cardinals’ first win over a nationally ranked opponent this season, which Hernandez said boosted his and his teammates’ confidence early in the 2024 season.
“We know that we can actually do it now,” Hernandez said. “With all of us together, believing and having confidence, hopefully, we can keep winning the rest of the season.”
Ball State’s confidence-building win opened with its first overtime set of the young campaign, as the Cardinals took set one by a 28-26 margin. Hernandez cited the red and white’s momentum stemming from the opening-frame victory as a key to their victory.
“After we got the first set, we were like ‘we can do this, we have the confidence, let's just get this sweep.’” Hernandez said.
After capturing the tight first set, which saw neither side build a lead greater than two points, Ball State faced little resistance in the second and third frames. The Cardinals hit at a .750 clip en route to a convincing 25-13 victory in set two, and they earned a five-point edge in the third frame.
Benefiting from a hot start in set one — which featured 16 kills at a .448 hitting percentage — Ball State’s offense cruised to its finest performance against a Division I opponent this season. Cardinals hitters slammed 51 kills (a season-high) at a .600 clip.
“For us, a big emphasis was just managing swings and taking your shots at the right opportunities,” Cruz said.
Sophomore outside hitter Patrick Rogers posted a team-best mark in kills (14), a total which he amassed at a .550 hitting percentage. Hernandez followed Rogers in the box score, as the Fishers, Indiana, native slammed 12 kills at a .550 clip.
In just the second start of his collegiate career, freshman setter Lucas Machado shined as the leader of the Cardinals’ offense. The Brazilian recorded a career-best 44 assists, which eclipses the team’s assist marks across the first five matches of the season and added four kills.
In addition to its offensive success, Ball State enjoyed its strongest performance on the block of the 2024 campaign. The red and white blockers tallied 6.0 total blocks, with Hernandez and junior middle blocker Vanis Buckholz leading the charge — tallying 2.0 and 1.5 blocks, respectively.
Ball State’s back row recorded 24 digs, which is an improvement upon its marks in the BYU series — 18 in the first match, and 21 in the second. Freshman libero Cameron Gray led the Cardinals’ defense with eight digs.
The Cardinal faithful logged the highest attendance mark of the season on Thursday night, with 858 fans filling the stands. Rogers is in the early stages of his first season donning the red and white after transferring from St. Francis Brooklyn, and he highlighted his appreciation for his new fan base.
“It's awesome to have fans out here,” Rogers said. “I've never seen a bid like this being at St. Francis, so it's awesome.”
Ball State’s tilt against the Tritons was the first leg of a three-match weekend home stand for the Cardinals. Ball State (4-2) will return to Worthen Arena for a pair of meetings against Tusculum (0-1) — on Friday, January 12, and Saturday, January 13 — to close out the slate. Both matches against the Pioneers are set to start at 6 p.m.
“It's a quick turnaround, so no matter who we’ve got on the floor, we need to be ready to flip it and play,” Cruz said.
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