Ball State men's volleyball began conference play this past weekend with a loss to Ohio State University and a win over McKendree University.
The Cardinals are ranked No. 12 in the NCAA AVCA Division I-II Coaches Poll and started the week off with a 3-0 loss to No. 1 Ohio State (29-27, 25-19, 25-22). Worthen Arena was packed with 3,178 fans — the fourth-largest men's volleyball attendance in Worthen Arena history.
Ball State capped off the weekend with a 3-0 win over McKendree (25-16, 25-21, 25-16) for a 1-1 record in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association conference.
Head coach Joel Walton was impressed with how the Cardinals performed against McKendree, especially with their serving, after suffering a three-set loss to Ohio State Feb. 2.
"I thought we were able to serve really well tonight," Walton said. "And not necessarily on the standpoint of aces, but we got their setter off the net and a lot and our defense was set up to put pressure on them."
Weekend Stat Leaders
Kills: Brendan Surane — 27
Assists: Connor Gross — 71
Digs: Matt Szews — 12
Blocks: Anthony Lebryk & Parker Swartz — 4
Service Aces: Matt Szews — 3
Ball State had strong attack percentages in both matches, hitting .314 against Ohio State and .430 against McKendree.
Senior outside attacker Brendan Surane finished the weekend with a team-high 27 — 16 against McKendree and 11 against Ohio State.
"I was able to take the momentum back to get my game going," Surane said. "Luckily, they were just serving up some passes that made my job easy."
The Cardinals also had strong play from freshman outside attacker Matt Szews, who finished the weekend with 24 kills and 12 digs, and senior setter Connor Gross who finished with 71 assists, seven digs and four blocks over the two matches.
Not only did Gross and Szews have strong performances with their play, but they also were the energy guys this weekend who helped to get Surane and the rest of the team going.
"We have a pretty quiet group so far," Surane said. "But whenever guys show emotion for our team, it really gets us fired up."
While the offense performed very well this weekend, Surane said the Cardinals can improve even more on the defensive side of the ball, which will make things tougher on their opponents.
"There were some plays where we were kind of lackadaisical on defense," Surane said. "I think with better defensive intensity we'll be even better and harder to stop."
The Cardinals will continue MIVA play next week with two matches against the Fort Wayne Mastodons — the first one at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 in Worthen Arena and the second match at 7 p.m. Feb. 10 in Fort Wayne. The Mastodons (4-9, 1-1 MIVA) started the season off slow but have performed better as of late with wins over No. 15 George Mason and McKendree.
"I have no doubt that we can go toe-to-toe athletically with any team in the country," Szews said. "We just have to be focused."