Ball State and Hawaii have become familiar foes since Cardinals head coach — and Hawaii native — Donan Cruz took control of the program in 2022. The pair of esteemed squads have met four times over the two-season span, and each team has captured two wins.
Despite playing in Worthen Arena, where they knocked off the Rainbow Warriors twice in 2022, the red and white were unable to gain an edge in the recent series Sunday night. In Ball State’s third-straight match against a nationally ranked opponent, the No. 14 Cardinals fell in a four-set battle (23-25, 25-23, 21-25, 19-25) against No. 4 Hawaii (6-1)
Cruz was pleased with Ball State’s improvement from previous matches, but he underscored the red and white’s inconsistency in critical moments.
“It's not enough to win against a team like that,” Cruz said. “We had moments of really good play, and then there were moments where we just couldn’t put it together.”
In addition to Ball State’s inability to overcome late-set adversity, Cruz highlighted Hawaii’s service pressure as a key component to the Rainbow Warriors’ winning formula. The fourth-ranked visitors entered as the nation’s leader in aces per set (2.72), and they amassed nine aces against the Cardinals.
“For the last five years, Hawaii has been either the number one or top five teams in the country in serving,” Cruz said. “You cannot go into a match like that, and not expect that they're going to bring some service pressure.”
Though Ball State was unable to secure the tightly contested first and third sets, which were each decided by fewer than four points, the Cardinals showed flashes of success early in the match.
Ball State’s lone set win came in the second game, a frame in which it never trailed the fourth-ranked Rainbow Warriors — who entered the match having won 17 of its 21 sets to open the 2024 campaign. The Cardinals recorded 17 kills at a .364 clip en route to their 25-23 triumph in set two.
The red and white’s offense not only shined in the second set, as it manufactured a fine overall outing. Ball State slammed a season-best 60 kills at a .333 hitting percentage, and its corps of hitters was paced by junior outside hitter Tinaishe Ndavazocheva and freshman opposite hitter Braydon Savitski-Lynde, who each recorded 16 kills.
Savitski-Lynde’s career-best kills total came in just his fourth start of his young career, and he attributes his success to a smooth transition from high school volleyball to the collegiate ranks.
“I think that Cruz knows I'm capable,” Savitski-Lynde said. “I’m just getting used to the game, and getting up to speed because it is a huge step obviously from high school.”
Freshman setter Lucas Machado led the Cardinals’ offense in a starting capacity for the third straight match. The Brazilian recorded 49 assists, three kills and four total blocks.
Machado’s strong effort on the block was matched by his frontcourt teammates. Ball State’s blockers tallied their highest block total of the season, recording 13 rejections. Freshman middle blocker Will Patterson logged a team-leading nine blocks, which sets a new career high for the rookie.
Though the Cardinals were unable to capture a win Sunday night, the program drew its highest attendance mark (2,526) of the 2024 season. Cruz underscored his focus on drawing top-ranked programs to Muncie in an attempt to fuel fan support.
“Bringing these kinds of games to Muncie is a big part of my goal as the head coach, and I think teams want to come here and play because you get to play in this kind of environment,” Cruz said.
Savitski-Lynde echoed his coach’s appreciation for the fan participation, and he added that the support in Worthen Arena has exceeded his early expectations.
“In the second set when we had game point, it was so loud in here,” Savitski-Lynde said. “I had chills. It was awesome to have such a huge crowd.”
Ball State (7-5) will look to snap its three-match losing skid Thursday when the Cardinals host No. 13 Loyola Chicago (5-5) in the opener of the 16-match Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) slate. Savitski-Lynde expressed that confidence and consistency will be a key to the Cardinals’ success in conference play.
“That game right there was just our errors and our stuff that we do on our side of the net,” Savitski-Lynde. “We can beat Loyola, we can beat Hawaii, and we can beat Penn State.”
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