Ball State’s accomplished seniors sent off with 5-set win against McKendree

No. 11 Ball State’s Senior Day win against No. 18 McKendree sent off the class of 2024 in a momentous fashion.

<p>Ball State men's volleyball pose for a photo after their game against McKendree April 6 at Worthen Arena. The Cardinals won 3-2 against the Bobcats. Mya Cataline, DN</p>

Ball State men's volleyball pose for a photo after their game against McKendree April 6 at Worthen Arena. The Cardinals won 3-2 against the Bobcats. Mya Cataline, DN

Through injuries and experiments with placing new faces in key roles, Ball State men’s volleyball has featured a plethora of starting lineups this season. Though the personnel changes eventually slowed as head coach Donan Cruz gained a clearer idea of the most advantageous combinations, the final regular season match of the year saw another unique starting rotation.

For the first time in the 2024 campaign, all five members of the Cardinals’ senior class were given the starting nod Saturday, which was only fitting for the red and white’s Senior Day match. Senior outside hitter Trevor Phillips said he and his classmates had long anticipated this moment, and it did not disappoint.

“We've been waiting for this moment the entire season,” Phillips said. “We knew it's going to happen. To be able to come out here and play one last game together in the nest was a lot of fun.

The senior-laden starting rotation propelled the Cardinals to a victory in the class’s final home regular season match. After dropping the first two sets without holding a lead, No. 11 Ball State rallied to defeat No. 18 McKendree (14-11, 8-8 MIVA) in a five-set affair (21-25, 20-25, 25-20, 25-23, 15-9) — earning the Cardinals sole possession of the MIVA regular season title.

“I’m happy with how we chose to fight, and it's not easy when your back’s against the wall in those situations to figure out a way to be successful,” Cruz said. “McKendree is an unbelievable team, and they played so well.”

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Graduate Student middle blocker Wil McPhillips goes to spike the ball against McKendree April 6 at Worthen Arena. McPhillips scored two points in the game. Mya Cataline, DN

Collecting wins against the nation’s top competition has not been uncommon for Ball State’s current crop of seniors, as the unit has been instrumental in guiding the Cardinals to one of the program’s finest stretches in recent history.

The red and white have tallied a 75-30 overall record, secured three Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) regular season titles and earned a trip to the NCAA Final Four across their four years. With just one other conference title coming in the rally-scoring era before their arrival, no other senior class in the 2000s manufactured a resume that fully compares to this group’s accolades.

Beyond their role in the team’s on-court success, Cruz highlighted the seniors’ contributions off the Worthen Arena hardwood — focusing on their leadership and collective selfless mentality.

“It’s just a great group of guys that I feel a special connection to and have a great relationship with,” Cruz said. “A big part is just simply all the experience that they bring to the group and the leadership.”

Ball State’s five seniors have enjoyed a level of success that has been unprecedented in recent decades, creating a strong bond between the players and the program. After spending five seasons donning the red and white, fifth-year middle blocker Wil McPhillips expressed his appreciation for the university, program and Muncie community.

“It means a lot to me,” McPhillips said. “I've met so many different people through the program and, and I'm still in contact with a lot of them. I've learned so much, and I definitely wouldn't be the person I am today without that.

Aside from a pair of Hawaiians on the roster, Phillips — a North Carolina native — hails from one of the furthest destinations in the United States. Despite being raised states away from Muncie, the veteran hitter now considers the community as his home.

“I'll never forget it,” Phillips said. “It's my home, it's where I met all my brothers and it's my family.”

Though the contingent of seniors have made major contributions to Ball State’s spurt of success during their time in Muncie, many members of the class have seen less action in their final season — in part, because of an influx of talented underclassmen. Cruz commended the group’s engagement, even in the face of reduced on-court time.

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Senior outside hitter Trevor Phillips celebrates scoring a point against McKendree April 6 at Worthen Arena. Phillips had five kills in the game. Mya Cataline, DN

“It's group success over individual success, and they really embrace that,” Cruz said. “Look at Dyer tonight. We called his name in the toughest circumstances, he showed up and it's because he makes no excuses.”

With seniors occupying five of the seven slots in the starting lineup, many of Ball State’s top individual contributions came from its class of 2024. Opposite hitter Dyer Ball recorded six kills, four digs and two aces to pace the senior class offensively, while libero Lukas Pytlak enjoyed a fine defensive outing, with eight digs.

For the second time in the last three years, Ball State (20-9, 13-3 MIVA) leaves the regular season with at least 20 victories in the win column. With another accomplished campaign in their rearview, the red and white are one week away from the dawn of postseason play. 

The Cardinals’ pursuit of a MIVA Tournament title will begin with a quarterfinal matchup against eighth-seeded Queens (9-19, 2-14 MIVA) April 13. The semifinal and championship rounds are scheduled for April 17 and 20, respectively, with each tournament match being played inside Worthen Arena.

“We need to take a little rest here, enjoy this one and get back after it on Monday,” Cruz said. “We feel good about our matchup against Queens, but we don't have too much time to hang out.”

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


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