Playing against a 2022 NCAA Tournament qualifier for the fourth-straight match, Ball State (2-5) dropped the opening game of the Dayton Tournament on Friday evening to Wright State (3-5) by a 3-1 count (26-24, 25-14, 29-31, 25-18).
The loss extends the Cardinals’ losing streak to four games, and although the skid comes at the disappointment of many around the program, experiencing a mid-season streak of setbacks is far from uncharted territory for coach Miller Phillips.
Last year, Ball State dropped five-consecutive matches near the end of non-conference play, but, eventually, recovered to capture a Mid-American Conference (MAC) West division crown. Miller Phillips is looking to ignite a turnaround akin to the one her team enjoyed last season.
“I definitely think it helps knowing that [a turnaround is] possible,” Miller Phillips said. “So, just that in the back of your head, having confidence that we've done this before, and then at the same time, just leaning into our upperclassmen leaning into those leaders that have to remain confident… I think you can learn a ton about yourself when you’re in these types of moments and just how tough you truly are.”
The Cardinals’ struggles against the Raiders in the opening-round matchup were typified by their disadvantage at the service line and in serve receive. Ball State logged 12 service errors and only recorded one ace, while their opponents served nine aces. Miller Phillips and her staff are aiming to rectify this issue in future matches.
“It's really just a matter of reps,” Miller Phillips said. “You got to get in (the gym), you got to get reps; that's how you get confident. That's one area we already added sometime in the gym to be able to get additional reps."
In spite of the red and white’s struggles serving and returning serve, Miller Phillips identified a number of bright spots in her team’s loss.
“We did show moments of toughness when we came in and won set three in overtime points,” Miller Phillips said. “That was a tough, hard battle, and I felt like we showed some toughness there in set three to be able to battle back and stay the course. And, that's (another) positive that we blocked. We blocked some balls a little bit more than our usual, so I thought that was a positive.”
In addition to the general team success, junior setter Megan Wielonski shined by recording her fourth double-double of the young season (33 assists, 20 digs), redshirt-freshman middle blocker Aniya Kennedy logged her second-highest mark in kills (14), and sophomore hitter Madison Buckely was forceful in the front row, with eight kills and a team-best eight blocks.
As she did following each of the Cardinals’ losses last weekend, Miller Phillips is looking to draw out lessons from the red and white’s most recent setback. After this outing, she is looking for greater consistency.
“When we're playing our level of volleyball we can compete with anybody, but our highs are high and our lows are low,” Miller Phillips said. “And I think one of the things that we've got to work on is finding that consistent middle ground and being able to count on every single person out there to just be able to do their job on a consistent basis...And, I think when we start doing that, then the wins are just gonna start rolling.”
The Cardinals will have a pair of opportunities to right the ship tomorrow – against University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) at 11 a.m. and against Dayton at 7 p.m. The hosting Flyers received 24 votes in the most recent American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) national rankings and will be a formidable foe for Ball State in the nightcap.
“Our staff does a great job of putting together a scouting report, so (we’re) just continuing to focus on just whatever our next match is,” Miller Phillips said. “So, UIC first, what can we do to control that match? Then, we’ll reset.”