If Felix Egharevba had to do it all over again, he would have done the same thing.
Five years on from choosing to play volleyball at Ball State, the middle blocker would not have changed a single decision.
“I left everything out [there],” he said after playing his final match in Worthen Arena. “I came in as a young freshman and I worked for this spot, I worked for this opportunity, I worked to be where I am right now.”
After a successful senior season in which Ball State won the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) Regular Season and Tournament Championships while going to the NCAA Final Four, Egharevba decided to return for his fifth year with graduate student outside hitter Kaleb Jennes.
“I'm honestly blessed that I had this opportunity,” he said. “So it's bittersweet. To do it again with my best friend, Kaleb, is just huge. He's been a big [motivating] factor for why I stayed for a fifth year because I knew we were gonna do this again, I knew we were strong enough to do it again.”
However, the storybook ending of returning to the NCAA Tournament and competing for a national title fell short, with Ball State (20-9, 11-9 MIVA) falling to Ohio State (22-9, 11-3 MIVA) in four sets April 22.
It was the third meeting between the two teams this season, but the Cardinals could not get themselves over the hump, according to head coach Donan Cruz.
“I mean, volleyball-wise, we struggled to score early,” he said. “Just some unlucky plays [too], like we were in a good position to execute and we just kind of missed some plays here and there, and then that just compiles, and next thing you know, you're playing catch up.”
“I just told the guys you got to keep your head up high,” Cruz continued. “You know, you do this long enough to figure out that you can be on either side of that, and hats off to Ohio State they played well.”
Ohio State started the first set hitting .625 while Ball State struggled to get the ball down across the net. Despite a late surge from the Cardinals that forced extra points, the Buckeyes managed to string together a two-point lead to win set one 27-25.
In the first set, both sides combined to give up 11 service errors and 10 attack errors, which would become a consistent state on both sides of the net throughout the contest.
“It’s so crazy because it errors, but errors at bad timing and I thought in set four, you really felt them,” Cruz said. “The stretch between eight and 15 points was where you really felt like there's a lot of things working against you, kind of swimming up current… For us, there's a lot of experience that needs to be had too, and while we talk about a lot of seniors, we have a lot of young guys in this lineup. I think down the road, we’ll just continue to get better and understand how to manage those and that’s why it's called experience. You have moments like this and you build on it for future teams.”
The match balanced a little bit in the second set with the Buckeyes cooling off their hitting percentage to .347 while Ball State’s offensive got moving. With Ohio State leading by four at the media timeout, they cruised to a 25-17 victory.
It was a completely different side in the third set, with Ball State getting the lead early and holding on to it after bringing in freshman outside hitter Keau Thompson and senior libero Sammy Adkisson into the fold. The pair helped shift the momentum, looking like a dominant No. 1 again and claiming a 25-19 set win.
“Keau’s been in and out of the lineup all year and I thought Dyer [Ball] was a good stabilizer,” Cruz said. “Everybody’s got their good days and their bad days you hope you wake up on the right side of the bed on a match like this. I still think Dyer did a phenomenal job all year long, and Keau came in and I think they’re both going to contribute at a high level for us [in the future].”
It was neck-and-neck in set four until the 11th point when a Buckeyes’ three-point run forced a Cardinal timeout. From there, Ohio State kept building and, after a few tough-won points, the No. 3 seed Buckeyes claimed the MIVA Tournament Championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament with a 25-19 set four victory.
“It’s just execution,” Egharevba said. “It is what it is, it happens. They played really well and we had to match their energy and keep everything on our side. It's a team game. I'm not gonna blame anybody… They played amazingly the entire season. So it's a team loss, they just played volleyball and that's all you can ask for in the championship game.”
The combination attack of graduate student attacker hitter Kaleb Jenness and sophomore outside hitter Tinaishe Ndavazocheva continued to be as effective as it has been all season with Jenness’ 16 kills and Ndavazocheva’s 15 a consolation for the Cardinals.
Defensively, sophomore middle blocker Vanis Buckholz lead Ball State with eight blocks while Jenness and Egharevba had three each.
The loss will go down as the final match in Worthen Arena for five Cardinals: Jenness, Egharevba, Adkisson, senior middle blocker Wil McPhillips and senior outside hitter Bryce Behrendt.
“Like what we told him, we said, ‘Hey, don't hang your head. We got a couple of years under our belt up on those banners,’” Cruz said. “That's something that five [or] 10 years from now they'll be able to look back at. Those guys are such a phenomenal group of guys and their character is what speaks volumes about what legacy they’ll leave.”
Cruz said that Jenness will go down as one of the best outside attackers to ever play for Ball State men’s volleyball.
“I'm really happy about the legacy I've left,” Jenness said. “Hopefully, I've left an impact on all the guys that have played here. All the people that are younger than me that I've led and played on the court with and been at practice with all these years. I'm excited for coach Cruz, he's got a good group here and I'm just excited to see how he does with it.”
Jenness said that his next plans are to play volleyball professionally, not necessarily right away, but at some point in the future.
Egharevba focused on what he wants the younger members of the program to take a lot from this season.
“Embrace the ride, enjoy the brotherhood, become resilient, be confident and always keep working,” he said.
The Cardinals will return in the 2023-24 season.