Worthen Arena had a certain vibe, one that hadn't been felt at a Ball State men's volleyball match since 2009.
The No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes were in town to face the No. 12 Cardinals, and Muncie showed up with the fourth-largest men's volleyball crowd in Worthen Arena's 25-year history.
"I think that when Muncie knows that we're playing, and they know we're playing a top-ranked opponent, they're pretty excited about watching our team play," head coach Joel Walton said.
Ball State lost 3-0 (29-27, 25-19, 25-22) in front of a reported 3,178 fans. The last time attendance topped 3,000 at home was in 2009, when the Cardinals set the record with 3,729 against Stanford.
Though Ohio State outside hitters Miles Johnson and Nicolas Szerszen dominated with a combined 32 kills and just four errors, Walton was happy to see his efforts to attract fans paid off.
Top 5 largest men's volleyball attendances in Worthen Arena history:
3,729 — L, 0-3 vs. No. 4 Stanford on Jan. 17, 2009
3,572 — W, 3-0 vs. No. 7 UCLA on March 1, 2008
3,492 —W, 3-1 vs. No. 7 UCLA on Feb. 29, 2008
3,178 — L, 0-3 vs. No. 1 Ohio State on Feb. 2, 2017
2,693 — L, 1-3 vs. No. 1 Loyola-Chicago on Feb. 20, 2014
"We want to keep letting people know that this is a very good Ball State men's volleyball team and a very fun team to watch," Walton said.
How serious was Walton about trying to get to people out to tonight's match?
"We had our guys do some promotion on campus by just handing out flyers and making sure that students knew that there was a match going on," he said.
Senior outside attacker Brendan Surane, who finished the match with 11 kills, said energetic crowds help players get in a rhythm and gain momentum.
"It's incredible to see," Surane said. "It's heartwarming and this is why we do it. People are actually caring about what we are doing and it's a great feeling."
Walton hopes that these large crowds will be something that remains constant throughout the season — not just a once-a-year type of thing.
"Hopefully, this crowd will feed into future crowds because great environments will help us prepare our guys for what a tournament type of match will feel like at the end of the season," Walton said. "It's a different kind of energy and they need to get used to playing in those types of environments."
Walton often mentions how Worthen Arena is major advantage for the program and hopes his Cardinals will be playing late into the season with some key matches on their home court.
"We hope we can get to the point where we can play a lot of conference tournament games at home and we can put that crowd to work," Walton said. "But just by having that experience and knowing what to do with that extra energy and using it to fuel you but not let it take you over is very important."
Walton and the Cardinals won't have to wait long to see if the fans come back — Ball State (8-2, 0-1 MIVA) hosts McKendree (5-6, 1-0 MIVA) in its next game Feb. 4.