Ball State men's volleyball head coach Joel Walton said his team is not yet where it wants to be from a competitive standpoint yet after the team's 3-0 (14-25, 22-25, 19-25) loss to No. 6 UC Irvine in Columbus, Ohio.
"I know that UC Irvine is a very strong team this year but I feel like our team can compete with a team like theirs or Ohio State," Walton said. "I feel that we have the ability to step on the court and win not only games against those teams but have a chance to go deep into the match and come away with the win."
The Cardinals (15-6, 6-4 MIVA) struggled against UC Irvine's serve on Friday night. The Anteaters only finished with seven service aces but Walton said the aggressiveness of their serve kept Ball State off balance.
"We struggled being able to keep a lineup on the court that was just well enough to terminate balls but skilled enough to pass their serve," Walton said. "We also struggled slowing down their outside attackers. They were getting good shots on the back row, on the front row and we weren't able to play that strong of defense as I would've liked."
UC Irvine's two outside attackers — senior Tamir Hershko and senior Thomas Hodges — both finished the match with 10 kills.
Weekend Stat Leaders:
Kills: Matt Szews — 21
Assists: Connor Gross — 59
Service aces: Matt Szews and Matt Walsh — 3
Digs: Connor Gross — 12
Total blocks: Alex Pia — 4
The Cardinals were able to wrap up their neutral court weekend with a 3-0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-19) win over UC San Diego. Walton said the team's strong starts in each set, especially in sets two and three, were able to get them early confidence in the match.
"We wanted to be assertive early on and prevent them from getting any momentum and feeling like they had a chance in that match," Walton said. "By starting well in games two and three, we were able to keep a lot of pressure on them throughout the course of the night."
Ball State got significant playing time from senior outside attacker Edgardo Cartagena. Cartagena, who had a season-high seven kills against UC San Diego, started both matches after performing well in practice earlier in the week.
"When we brought Eddy [Cartagena] and Nick Lavanchy into the lineup that group just gelled," Walton said. "Eddy can contribute not only with his play but with his maturity and also that he's well connected with his teammates."
The Cardinals return home this Saturday for a meeting with Alderson Broaddus at 7:30 p.m.