Following its setback against No. 13 USC Friday afternoon, Ball State returned to the Austin Convention Center on Saturday for another matchup against a member of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF).
The 14th-ranked Cardinals were unable to avenge their prior loss, however, as they fell to No. 8 Stanford (6-0) in four sets (25-9, 21-25, 30-28, 25-18).
Ball State head coach Donan Cruz said that although the red and white did not secure a win in this weekend’s First Point Collegiate Challenge, he leaves the Lone Star State with pride in his team.
“I leave this tournament optimistic about what we can do, but we’ve got to be patient,” Cruz said. “I know we’ve got a group that's willing to work hard.”
Ball State quickly found itself at a clear disadvantage in momentum in its clash against undefeated Stanford. The Cardinal cruised to a commanding 14-1 lead in the first set and captured the opening frame while holding the red and white to nine points — their lowest single-set point total this season.
“It just hurts to see the group like that, but all that matters is how you’re going to respond,” Cruz said.
In spite of Stanford’s decisive first-frame triumph, Ball State proceeded to manufacture perhaps its finest performance of the weekend in the second set. The Cardinals logged 3.5 blocks, two service aces and 12 kills at a .304 hitting percentage, and they secured a bounce-back win in the second frame.
“I thought we responded well,” Cruz said. “We showed what Ball State is all about in sets two and three. I liked how the guys represented the university.”
Although Ball State decisively won the second set without ever relinquishing the lead, Stanford responded by claiming the third and fourth frames. The Cardinals were not easily put away, however, as they fought off seven set points en route to their 30-28 loss in a marathon third game.
Though the Cardinals’ offense was key in its second-set victory, the red and white hitters battled inconsistency across the entire match. Ball State recorded 45 kills at a .185 hitting percentage, and was led by sophomore outside hitter Patrick Rogers, who slammed 19 kills on 32 swings.
Freshman setter Lucas Machado earned the starting nod as the leader of the Ball State offense, but he was replaced by sophomore Griffin Satterfield after playing just 13 points in set one. Satterfield’s insertion in the lineup brought improvements in the Cardinals' offensive marks, and he tallied 41 assists, two kills and two total blocks.
“We just felt like we needed a little change in the mood, and I thought Griffin came in and did some good things,” Cruz said. “I think everyone put in [a] decent effort, but I think we need more out of the group.”
After allowing Stanford to hit at a .625 clip in the first set — and not recording a single block in the process — Ball State’s defense responded with strong performances in the following three frames. Freshman libero Cameron Gray dug up 10 attacks and paced a Cardinals’ back row that recorded 34 digs, and graduate student middle blocker Wil McPhillips’ five total blocks led a Ball State blocking corps that recorded 10 rejections.
With 11 matches played across the last 19 days to open the 2024 season, Ball State will enjoy a week-long spurt without a match when it returns to Muncie. The Cardinals (7-4) will next be in action Sunday, January 27, when they take on No. 3 Hawaii (3-1) in the final non-conference matchup before the start of Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) play.
“I don't know if I want rest,” Cruz said. “We want practice, and we need to get better. I think that eight days is gonna be well spent in the gym.”
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