No. 12 Ball State men’s volleyball claims top spot in MIVA at the midpoint of conference play

Freshman setter Lucas Machado sets the ball against Queens March 1 at Worthen Arena. Machado scored three points in the game. Mya Cataline, DN
Freshman setter Lucas Machado sets the ball against Queens March 1 at Worthen Arena. Machado scored three points in the game. Mya Cataline, DN

Since Donan Cruz assumed head coaching duties for Ball State men’s volleyball in 2022, three banners have been added to the crowded Worthen Arena rafters, honoring a Final Four appearance and two Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) crowns.

The Cardinals collected a 23-5 record across the opening two seasons of the Cruz era in Muncie, renewing the winning standard in the illustrious program. Now halfway through the 2024 MIVA schedule, the red and white again find themselves positioned well in the conference standings leading into the final stretch of the season.

With No. 12 Ball State’s win (25-19, 25-21, 25-18) over Queens (6-13, 2-8 MIVA) Sunday inside Worthen Arena, the Cardinals surpassed Ohio State — who earned their second conference loss against Loyola Chicago on March 2 — for the first-place spot in the MIVA standings.

Cruz said that, while he and the coaching staff try not to fixate on standings throughout the season, it is inevitable to stay tuned to news across the conference.

“It's just the timing of the year,” Cruz said. “For us, watching some of that movement around us does — no matter what you think — help us out. But, we're just focused on what Ball State's got to do.”

The Cardinals’ elevation to the top position in the conference table stems from its strong push in recent weeks, as they have not dropped a contest since Feb. 9. The red and white’s victory over Queens extended their winning streak to six matches, its longest spurt of the 2024 season.

MVB v Queens 18.JPG
Senior libero Lukas Pytlak hits the ball after the serve against Queens March 1 at Worthen Arena. Pytlak had five digs in the game. Mya Cataline, DN

Cruz called the change from the opening weeks of the season, which saw the Cardinals drop five of its first six matches against ranked opponents, a “night and day” difference.

“We're working at a different rate right now, the productivity is way different and the team vibe is way different,” Cruz said.

The third-year head coach also pointed to practice intensity as a factor in the Cardinals’ success, a thought echoed by sophomore outside hitter Ryan Bartz.

“I think a big part of that is our practices,” Bartz said. “We've been working really hard at practices. We are getting better and better, and it's all because of practice.”

Ball State’s six-straight winning efforts have featured strong play in nearly all facets of the game, but the Cardinals have especially benefited from notable improvements in hitting efficiency and blocking.

Over the recent six-match span, Ball State has eclipsed the .300 hitting-percentage mark in each outing, something it did just six times in the 15 previous matches. Sophomore outside hitter Patrick Rogers and junior outside hitter Tiniahse Ndavazocheva — the Cardinals’ leaders in total kills — have been especially potent across the winning streak, combining for six 15-plus kill performances in that time.

Rogers and Ndavazocheva have both been recognized for their recent offensive outbursts, as they each earned MIVA Offensive Player of the Week honors in the month of February.

The Cardinals have not exclusively leaned on offensive production to move their side of the scoreboard, as Ball State has also benefited from the emergence of its blockers. The red and white have averaged more than 10 blocks per match over its current winning streak, even while playing without junior middle blocker Vanis Buckholz for five of the six matches.

“Christian Rupert has put a big emphasis on blocking,” said senior middle blocker Rodney Wallace, who is averaging over one block per set this season. “We’ve played a lot of guys with big arms on the other side of the net, so we clearly see a lot of guys with big arms in our practice gym.”  

Ball State has enjoyed the strongest start to league play of any team in the MIVA, but it must maintain its high level of play to remain in contention for its third-straight conference regular season title, as three teams that are either currently or have been ranked this season remain on its schedule.

The 16-match MIVA schedule — a change from the previous 14-match slate, which stems from the addition of Queens this season — requires each member to play a two-match series against the other eight conference teams. Ball State has now completed its season series against Loyola Chicago and Queens, but the Cardinals are still yet to play the second match in four of their league series and have yet to see No. 7 Ohio State and No. 14 Lewis at all.

“We know we’ve got one of the harder remaining conference schedules left,” Cruz said. “None of that is our design, but we're ready to go, and we’ve known that for a while.”

Though a daunting slate of eight conference matches awaits Ball State in the second half of MIVA play, the Cardinals (14-7, 7-1 MIVA) must narrow their focus on its upcoming March 14 matchup with Ohio State (14-4, 8-2 MIVA).

“They're definitely going to be in trouble,” Bartz said. “We’ve got a whole different team than we did last year, and they’ve got no clue what's coming.” 

Eleven days, which encompasses the entirety of the university’s spring break and some change, stand between Ball State’s most recent match and its high-stakes meeting with the Buckeyes, a team that spoiled the red and white’s NCAA Tournament hopes in the 2023 MIVA Tournament final.

The Cardinals are going to make use of their extended break by traveling to Puerto Rico for a training trip, an excursion for which Bartz and Wallace expressed their excitement. Cruz also underscored the value in the trip, beyond just growing team chemistry.

“It's always a balance of resting and working, but the biggest part for us is to be able to compete every day against one another,” Cruz said. “That has been why we are an elite team.”

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


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