As the crowd in Worthen Arena rose to its feet, players embraced at half-court.
The fans roared as the public address announcer exclaimed Ball State Women’s Volleyball (24-7, 15-3) is going back to the Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship game for the second straight season.
“I think it is awesome to play in Worthen,” third-year outside hitter Cait Snyder said. “They provide a great atmosphere and their energy is awesome and it pushes us along.”
The Cardinals earned the No. 1 overall seed for the MAC Tournament after finishing as regular-season champions, giving them a first-round bye and home-court advantage throughout the tournament.
“The atmosphere is amazing here,” fourth-year middle blocker Marie Plitt said. “The fans are always up and rowdy and that helps us so much.”
Monday’s semi-final match opened with a 23-25 set one loss for Ball State. Central Michigan (20-11, 12-6) jumped on the Cardinals early, at one point having the lead in the set for 13-straight rallies.
A lot of Chippewas’ points in their set one win came from the gaps in Ball State’s defense not being filled. The Cardinals gave up points on blocks not being fully complete, tipping the ball and the play going out of bounds.
Ball State cleaned up their play in set two, committing four fewer errors than Central Michigan and striking a hitting percentage almost double the Chippewas.
After making the necessary adjustments from the first set to the second set, the Cardinals took firm control, never giving up the lead after a kill from Snyder, one of her team-high 21, put Ball State up 4-3 early on.
The problems that plagued set one for the Cardinals looked to be coming back in set three.
A .167 hitting percentage and 11 total errors, nine of which were attack errors. Gaps in the defense were being exploited again by Central Michigan. But then something switched.
The Chippewas held an 18-14 lead and were looking to put Ball State away to go up 2-1 overall in the match.
The Cardinals outscored Central Michigan 11-5 in the ensuing plays to win set three.
“I felt like we played tighter than we needed to,” head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said. “I told them if there is any lesson to be learned it is just there is no joy in that and we do not play our best in that.”
A back-and-forth set four saw both teams get into a slugfest. Neither team had a hitting percentage better than .300 and both teams tallied a combined 12 attack errors.
Two consecutive kills from fourth-year opposite Natalie Mitchem ended the match after four sets in favor of Ball State.
“We’re allowed to be confident and we’re allowed to enjoy it,” Phillips said. “We’ve worked really hard to be in this position and the one thing I wanted them to take away from this was to relax and enjoy it.”
The Cardinals return to Worthen Arena for the final time this season tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. in the MAC championship game against the No. 2 seed Bowling Green.