The Saturday night matchup between Ball State and Lindenwood pitted two of the nation’s top offensive forces against one another. Leading into the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) match, the Lions and Cardinals respectively ranked first and second nationally in kills per set, as they both entered the contest averaging about 13 terminations per frame.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the two squads’ staggering marks, offensive production was at the core of the conference clash, with both teams combining for 138 kills — which exceeded each of their season averages.
“At the end of the day, it definitely was the team that was able to score on attacking,” Ball State head coach Donan Cruz said.
No. 11 Ball State prevailed in the offense-dominated match, downing Lindenwood (3-7, 0-3 MIVA) in a two-and-a-half hour, five-set thriller (22-25, 28-26, 25-23, 18-25, 21-19), inside the Lions’ Hyland Arena.
Cruz said a text that he received from Ball State athletics director Jeff Mitchell following the match summarized his view of the Cardinals’ five-set triumph.
“It was a gritty win, even quoted by our AD Jeff Mitchell,” Cruz said. “That's the kind of W's that you want.”
Though the match went the entire five-set distance, it appeared as though the Cardinals were well-positioned to close out a four-set victory, with the momentum in their corner following their wins in sets two and three. Ball State’s offense went cold in the potentially decisive fourth frame, however, prompting the red and white’s first fifth set of the season.
The early parts of the fifth frame were a microcosm of the entire match; offense dominated, and neither team was able to build a substantial lead. Ball State eventually managed to build a key 12-10 lead late in the frame, which it then squandered following a Lindenwood timeout.
The Lions climbed back into the frame, and managed to earn five match points — each of which Ball State fended off. The Cardinals concluded the hard-fought triumph by winning three-straight points and were led in the final set by sophomore outside hitter Ryan Bartz, who recorded five critical kills in the frame.
Not only did Ball State’s resilience yield an addition to the win column, but it also resulted in a moral victory. The Cardinals had lost their last three sets decided by two points, which made their late-set success especially satisfying.
“We've been struggling in these moments where we get behind the middle parts of the game, and today we really worked hard to try to address that,” Cruz said. “A lot of that was just simply being present-minded in those moments.”
The red and white’s offense produced 65 kills at a .350 hitting percentage in the victory and received contributions from seven hitters. Sophomore outside hitter Patrick Rogers and junior outside hitter Tinaishe Ndavazocheva led with 20 and 19 terminations, respectively.
Freshman setter Lucas Machado enjoyed one of the finest performances of his debut season, as the Brazilian logged new career-bests in assists (50) and digs (11), which resulted in his first-ever double-double.
The Cardinals’ strong offensive outing was met with notable contributions from its blockers, a group that tallied 13.5 total blocks against McKendree just 24 hours prior. The red and white registered a season-best 14 rejections and were paced by senior middle blocker Wil McPhillips, who blocked five attacks.
Ball State’s winning effort came from a different cast than the group that appeared in its loss to McKendree. Cruz placed senior opposite hitter Dyer Ball — who had previously played in just four matches before Saturday — on the right side, and he also gave McPhillips a starting nod, as the Cardinals were without junior Vanis Buckholz for the fourth-straight outing.
“Dyer is one of our captains, and we just felt like the McKendree match, we wanted to make an adjustment that would bring the type of veteran presence to the court against the team like Lindenwood,” Cruz said.
After tallying their second win of the young MIVA season, the Cardinals (9-7, 2-1 MIVA) now find themselves locked in a five-way tie for the top spot in the conference. Ball State has a pair of opportunities to gain an early advantage in the league standings next week, as they host Purdue Fort Wayne (7-5, 1-2 MIVA) Thursday and travel to Loyola Chicago (7-6, 2-1 MIVA) Saturday.
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