Central Michigan was one of only two Mid-American Conference (MAC) foes to hand Ball State a loss in its conference championship 2022 campaign.
In just 1:28 on court Thursday night, the Cardinals quickly reversed their fortunes from last season. Ball State dismantled the Chippewas (6-7, 0-1 MAC) in a MAC-opening sweep (25-15, 25-21, 27-25).
“I thought the group did a nice job of resetting [and] making sure we came in tonight really, really focused with the intent that we were gonna set the tone on our home floor tonight,” Ball State head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said.
The conference kickoff marked Ball State’s annual “Red Out” match, an event which calls Cardinals fans to pack Worthen Arena in their red clothing. A loud 785 onlookers took in Thursday’s match, a crowd fifth-year senior Havyn Gates embraced.
“It's so great because the community is so loving of volleyball and so supportive of it,” Gates said. “It's just cool to see the whole community here and everybody cheering you on.”
With Ball State red sprinkled throughout the stands, Wapahani red flooded the court Thursday. For the first time this season, three Raiders alumnae – freshmen Camryn Wise, Reese Baker and Gates – saw the Cardinals’ starting lineup.
Although the three Raiders never played together in the high school ranks – as they were separated by four years – they each have deep ties in the Wapahani volleyball community.
“I grew up watching Havyn, which is really nice,” Baker said. “Playing with her now [is] amazing, because she's such a leader on record. I want to follow in her footsteps, and she teaches me.”
“I think it's a cool experience because not a lot of people get to, play with their teammates for as long as, especially, Rees and Cam have,” Gates said. “And now, I get to be a part of that.”
Worthen Arena was the stage on which each of these former Raiders captured IHSAA state titles in their prep careers, which Baker said adds to the appeal of representing Ball State.
“It's a cool experience because I ended my [high school] season here, and then I started my new season here, so it’s cool coming straight in here,” Baker said.
Miller Phillips, a Muncie Central graduate, expressed her pride in coaching a talented contingent of East Central Indiana volleyball products and underscored her intent to recruit local prospects.
“We want those great players to stay here and play at home,” Miller Phillips said. “Those are three examples of people that have really worked hard to be in a position to be out on the floor, and I thought they all three did a good job tonight.”
Adding to the sentimental value of Thursday’s win, the high school compatriots also enjoyed strong performances. Wise recorded a team-high six blocks and one kill; Baker – in her first-career start – notched three digs; and, Havyn Gates registered a team-best 17 digs and a service ace.
Miller Phillips commended Wise as she has embraced a role she was not expecting to fill prior to her freshman campaign, and the Cardinals head mentor applauded Baker for being a “workhorse.”
Beyond the contributions from the Wapahani trio, a host of Cardinals also shined in the victory. Redshirt freshman middle blocker Aniya Kennedy led in kills (13), junior setter Megan Wielonski led in assists (41), and graduate hitter Marie Plitt led in hitting percentage (62.5 percent).
In spite of Ball State’s consecutive MAC regular season titles (2021 and 2022), the Cardinals fell in their last two conference openers – making Thursday’s triumph especially notable. Gates said that she is looking to lead by example as the conference season progresses.
“You can talk about whatever you want,” Gates said. “It's important for me to lead by how I play to show our freshmen or younger people this is how Ball State volleyball is.”
The Cardinals (4-8, 1-0 MAC) will return to Worthen Arena tomorrow evening at 6 p.m. for the second half of their two-game slate with the Chippewas. Miller Phillips is looking for greater consistency in Ball State’s second MAC outing.
“I don't want us to feel like we dropped our focus,” Miller Phillip said. “As the match went on, we had a good start, and then I felt like [we were] a little bit less focused. Tomorrow is the reverse, you want to have good focus and be more and more focused as the match goes on.”