Ball State falls to Lewis in five, but remains MIVA’s top team

The Flyers downed the Cardinals in a five-set thriller Saturday. The red and white retain first place in the MIVA, despite losing.

<p>Junior opposite hitter Tinaishe Ndavazocheva spikes the ball against Purdue Fort Wayne March 23 at Gates Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Ndavazocheva scored 25 points in the game. Mya Cataline, DN</p>

Junior opposite hitter Tinaishe Ndavazocheva spikes the ball against Purdue Fort Wayne March 23 at Gates Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Ndavazocheva scored 25 points in the game. Mya Cataline, DN

Ball State men’s volleyball’s sole road match at Lewis last season came on the Flyers’ Senior Day. The red and white prevailed in a tightly contested five-set affair, spoiling their opponent’s festivities.

The 2024 Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) schedule, coincidentally, slated the Cardinals to square off against Lewis on its Senior Day for the second-consecutive season. Flipping the script from a year ago, the Flyers defended their home court and sent off their senior class in victorious fashion.

The 12th-ranked Cardinals fell to No. 14 Lewis (14-12, 8-6 MIVA) Saturday in five sets (25-18, 19-25, 19-25, 27-25, 12-15) inside Neil Carey Arena.

“Our objective is to play good volleyball and put ourselves in the best situation to win,” Ball State head coach Donan Cruz said. “So, when we don't, it becomes a little frustrating, and the initial emotion is frustration.”

Ball State’s loss comes just two days after its marathon five-set triumph against Lewis in the first half of the season series. Saturday night’s clash also went the complete distance, but it ended in favor of the Flyers.

At the core of the Cardinals’ fifth-set triumph, Thursday night were strong offensive contributions from junior Tinaishe Ndavazocheva and their timely defense of Lewis’ hitters, the latter of which was absent Saturday. The Flyers recorded 11 of their 15 set-five points on kills and did so at an efficient .409 clip.

“We told the guys that sometimes the outcomes don't go in our favor, and we have to be willing to face the results and go back to the drawing board to figure out how we get better,” Cruz said.

The Cardinals’ pair of set victories came in the first and fourth games. Cruz said capturing the first frame was particularly satisfying, after Ball State’s poor opening set Thursday night — which saw the red and white hit .086 en route to a 25-19 loss.

“It was very clean and good volleyball,” Cruz said. “Our problem is we just need to elevate our lower end, and starting out of the gate quickly was helpful.”

While the opening set saw the Cardinals post a decisive, wire-to-wire win, Ball State’s triumph in set four seemed unlikely until the final points. The red and white were once down 19-15 in the late stages of the game, but rallied to secure an overtime win, forcing the match into five sets.

The Flyers outpaced Ball State in hitting percentage and kills, but the Cardinals’ hitters still manufactured a strong effort. The red and white recorded 65 kills at a .320 clip, with nine players logging at least one termination.

For the fourth straight match, Ndavazocehva led the Cardinals in kills. The Zimbabwe product’s 20 kills against Lewis also marked his third-straight outing with 20 or more terminations.

Junior opposite hitter Aaron Hernandez followed behind Nadazocehva, as the product Fishers, Indiana, recorded 12 kills — tied for a career-best line. Hernandez’s notable effort came in his first start since January, as freshman Braydon Savitski-Lynde has earned the majority of starts on the right side in MIVA play.

“We went with Aaron because we thought he was gonna have the freshest legs, and quite honestly, his best attribute is his ability to score the ball,” Cruz said.

Though Hernandez appeared in place of Savitski-Lyne in Saturday’s starting rotation, Cruz said he and his staff have not settled on a permanent starter at opposite hitter and will evaluate their options over the coming week of preparation.

Freshman setter Lucas Machado enjoyed one of his finest outings as the orchestrator of Ball State’s offense. The rookie dished out 51 assists — tied for a career-high mark — slammed four kills and dug up eight attacks.

Ball State’s blockers recorded a season-high 14.5 rejections in match one against Lewis Thursday, but were unable to replicate that success in the second outing. The red and white logged just five rejections, an effort led by fifth-year middle blocker Wil McPhillips (two blocks).

For the second-straight match Ball State was without both sophomore outside hitter Patrick Rogers and junior middle blocker Vanis Buckholz, who were each sidelined with lower-body injuries. Cruz said he expects both of them to be available by next weekend, however.

Despite the loss, Ball State (18-9, 11-3 MIVA) still remains in first place in the MIVA standings, as the Cardinals lead second-place Loyola Chicago (11-4 MIVA) by half a match.

Given Ball State’s narrow lead at the top of the conference table, the Cardinals’ hopes of winning a third-straight MIVA regular season title will hinge on their performance in the final two matches of the campaign. The red and white are set to conclude the year with a pair of home matches; the first is against Quincy (5-17, 1-13 MIVA), and the second against No. 18 McKendree (14-9, 8-6 MIVA) on Saturday.

“Our team goal is to win a national championship, win a conference tournament championship and win a regular season conference championship,” Cruz said. “There’s huge value in it, and we're wanting to make that a reality by winning two next week.”

Contact Adam Altobella with comments on X @AltobellaAdam or via email at


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