In the first-ever meeting between Ball State Men’s Volleyball (2-0, 0-0 MIVA) and Queens (0-2, 0-0 IVA), the Cardinals used depth to their advantage to sweep the Royals in night two of the Don Shondell Active Ankle Challenge.
“Whether it’s [Jake] Romano being able to come in and set or [Will] Hippe and [Nick] Martinski coming off the bench, we’ve got some guys capable of playing,” head coach Joel Walton said. “I’m pleased with the fact we didn’t have to play the exact same guys.”
An example of the Cardinals’ depth Saturday came at setter. Senior setter Jake Romano made his season debut in the win, tallying 36 assists along with two service aces. Ball State finished the match with six service aces after putting up eight in Friday’s win over Belmont Abbey.
Walton said the platoon of Romano and junior setter Quinn Isaacson could pay huge dividends for the Cardinals going forward.
“It’s nice to have two guys who can set,” Walton said. “It really controlled our team. I didn’t want to get through this weekend and not have played Romano. It was good to get both of those guys in and get significant time.”
While Romano said he was pleased with his performance in the win, he had nothing but high praise for his teammate in Isaacson, who started Friday’s match.
“It’s been great,” Romano said. “Quinn is a great friend of mine, and all preseason, him and I have been battling every day at practice, really making one another better. He’s a great kid and a really great player. On any given night, he can do exactly what I can.”
On the defensive front, Ball State outdug Queens, 38-27. Senior Nick Lavanchy and junior Colin Ensalaco both saw playing time at the libero position, finishing with a combined nine digs.
Although the Cardinals propelled to a 25-20 win in set one, they missed eight serves in the first — a major area of consistency in Friday’s win.
“[Our serving] was horrible in game one,” Walton said. “That was really a big reason why that score was relatively close.”
In set two, the Cardinals’ serving improved, with the team only suffering from four service errors. That, plus a .370 hitting percentage, gave Ball State a 25-15 win heading into the third.
Ball State took set two off a kill from Ryan Dorgan, notching his first of the season after not seeing action in 2019. Additionally, sophomore outside attacker Nick Martinski posted quality numbers in his collegiate debut Saturday, finishing with six kills and seven digs.
“We sort of settled in as the match went along,” Romano said. “We served [Queens] very aggressive, which ended up putting them out of system a lot of the time and forced them to do a lot that they didn’t always have. We were able to defensively form behind that and make great plays.”
While the Royals showed grit throughout the third, six kills from sophomore outside attacker Kaleb Jenness gave the Cardinals a 25-23 win to sweep the match. Jenness came off the bench for set three after not playing in sets one and two.
Walton said he was pleased with the chemistry between Jenness and Romano.
“I think Kaleb likes hitting off Jake typically a little bit better than he likes hitting off Quinn,” Walton said. “When Jake is getting that ball up there to Kaleb, that’s more of what we expect to see offensively out of [Jenness].”
Ball State will be back in action Friday at Cal State Northridge to begin a six-match road trip. The Cardinals will not return to Worthen Arena for nearly four weeks, with the team’s next home contest coming Feb. 6 vs. Urbana.
“This is going to be a lot, especially for some of the younger guys we have in this program,” Romano said. “Properly taking care of your body, those sort of things are going to be important to us but more so being prepared for the opponents we have. Just because someone may not be ranked on paper doesn’t mean anything.”
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