Top-seeded Cardinals’ postseason run ends with upset loss to Lindenwood

For the second-straight season, Ball State men’s volleyball’s season ends inside Worthen Arena.

Junior middle blocker Vanis Buckholz cries after the loss to Lindenwood April 18 at Worthen Arena. The Cardinals lost 3-2 in the semi-finals of the MIVA tournament. Mya Cataline, DN
Junior middle blocker Vanis Buckholz cries after the loss to Lindenwood April 18 at Worthen Arena. The Cardinals lost 3-2 in the semi-finals of the MIVA tournament. Mya Cataline, DN

Ball State men’s volleyball secured the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) regular season title in 2023, earning the Cardinals the right to host the conference tournament. The red and white were unable to capitalize on their home court advantage roughly a year ago, falling to Ohio State in an emotional battle.

The Cardinals once again hosted the MIVA Tournament in 2024, after earning a third-straight league regular season title. Like last season, Ball State’s campaign ended inside Worthen Arena, but this year, the red and white fell in the MIVA semifinals.

No. 10 Ball State was upset by No. 18 Lindenwood in a five-set battle (25-20, 21-25, 25-23, 19-25, 11-15) on the Cardinals’ home court Thursday night. With how scarce at-large bids to the NCAA men’s volleyball tournament are, it is likely that the red and white’s 2024 campaign is over.

Following the emotional, season-ending setback, Ball State’s post-match huddle extended long past the normal few minutes of talk. The Cardinals, dressed in their all-black uniforms, stood together, arms locked, while head coach Donan Cruz gave his final remarks of the campaign.

“We just said part of basking in the glory of success is also facing failure in the eye, and that's what happened for us,” Cruz said. 

The red and white softly broke the huddle in unison, with their routine call. As senior opposite hitter Dyer Ball, who just played his final match in a Ball State uniform, departed the congregation of his teammates, he wiped at his face — signaling the mutual emotions felt by the Cardinals’ roster.

Cruz made his rounds after the huddle broke, stopping to visit with a number of his players — most notably the senior class. The third-year head coach consoled his squad with hugs and quick messages, and he expressed how difficult it was to say goodbye to this year’s team.

“I've been in this position as a head coach for a while now, and it never gets easier,” Cruz said. “The more that you coach and get a chance to interact with such great people, it just makes it hard to say goodbye.”

Ball State will lose five seniors to graduation: Ball, Trevor Phillips, Rodney Wallace, Wil McPhillips and Lukas Pytlak. Though the class is composed of players with varying years of experience wearing the red and white, the crew combined to record one of the finest resumes in the program’s history.

MVB v Lindenwood MIVA 3.JPG
Ball State men's volleyball gathers to talk after their loss to Lindenwood April 18 at Worthen Arena. The Cardinals lost 3-2 against the Lions. Mya Cataline, DN

The Cardinals’ current crop of seniors were on three MIVA regular season championship teams and advanced to the NCAA Final Four in 2022. Prior to this class’s arrival, a conference championship had not made its way through Muncie in two decades.

“We had a very special group of seniors,” Cruz said.

In spite of Ball State’s unexpected setback, Cruz hopes that this season is not remembered by the Cardinals’ postseason loss. 

“That's the hardest part about this is you can define one night for a lot of these guys for work they've put in for years,” Cruz said.

The Cardinals’ roster saw a nearly complete overhaul from the 2023 season to this year, which was epitomized by five members of the red and white’s starting lineup Thursday being in their first year in Muncie. Even with the sweeping changes, the Cardinals managed to manufacture a 20-win campaign and captured a third-straight conference title.

“It was just a season of adversity, and a season of a lot of growth,” Cruz said. “While we didn't come out on top, I still feel like there are a lot of positive takeaways. We have a really young group and a lot of guys coming back.”

While Cruz said he hopes to take a step back and honor this year’s team for all that it accomplished, he recognized that the future is bright for the 24-time MIVA champions. Fourteen spots on Ball State’s roster were occupied by underclassmen, and all are set to return in 2025.

“I always try to always try to take a second and decompress a little bit and not try to act so quickly on raw emotions,” Cruz said. “For me right now, it's about focusing on transitioning from a very special group. The page turns quickly, but I believe in how we'll respond after this loss here.”

Contact Adam Altobella with comments on X @AltobellaAdam or via email at aaltobella@bsu.edu.

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