In order for the third time to be the charm for No. 11 Ball State men's volleyball against No. 2 Ohio State in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association semifinals, head coach Joel Walton said he'd like to see the Cardinals improve their passing.
"Volleyball is all about serving and passing well," Walton said. "The teams that are able to execute those skills the best are the ones winning championships."
To do that, the Cardinals (19-9, 9-7 MIVA) have to be able to handle the Buckeyes' serving. Junior outside attacker Nicolas Szerszen averages 0.64 service aces per set — the best average in the country.
"Their serves can really keep you off-balance," Walton said. "If we start to do a good job handling their serves then it begins to put more pressure on the server and can force them into making errors which gives us easier points."
The Cardinals have yet to win a set against the Buckeyes this season, with Ohio State (28-2, 16-0 MIVA) outscoring them 154-118 in the two matches. Walton said Ball State has to slow down their two main offensive weapons — Szerszen and senior opposite Miles Johnson.
Kills: Matt Szews — 348
Assists: Connor Gross — 1,061
Service Aces: Matt Szews — 37
Digs: Connor Gross — 184
Total Blocks: Matt Walsh — 119
Kills: Nicolas Szerszen — 391
Assists: Christy Blough — 1,002
Service Aces: Nicolas Szerszen — 67
Digs: Gabriel Domecus — 204
Total Blocks: Blake Leeson — 96
Johnson and Szerszen have both had attack percentages of over .500 in their matches against the Cardinals with Johnson hitting a whopping .621 in the win in Worthen Arena which Walton called "ridiculous."
"You have to be able to disrupt their offense by getting their setter [Christy Blough] off the net," Walton said. "If he's up at the net and running all of the options that he has, he starts to feel comfortable and it becomes very difficult for us to get our block where it needs to be."
Walton also said he expects momentum to play a huge role. In the first match, Ball State led 21-16 in the first set, but Ohio State was able to work its way back and take the set 29-27.
"We were able to build up a big lead in that set but we just weren't able to sustain our level of serve-receive," Walton said. "It's all about consistency — you have to be able to keep up with them offensively and you have to be able to interrupt their ability to be comfortable while running that offense."
In terms of momentum for the season as a whole, the Cardinals have been riding a hot streak with sophomore middle attacker Parker Swartz saying the team is peaking at the right time. Walton said it's important for the team to continue to play with this mentality into the semifinal match on Wednesday.
"I think it's good that you're starting to see our guys get a lot of confidence," Walton said. "You work for the entire year to be at your best right now in April and ideally in May if you're still playing."
Ball State is looking to make its first MIVA championship appearance since 2009, but in order to do that it will have to get past a team that kept them out of the championship match in both 2012 and 2010.
First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio.