The Ball State bench was riddled with pink accents Friday night. The coaching staff patrolled the sidelines dressed in pink attire, which ranged from head coach Kelli Miller Phillips’ fluorescent pink top to assistant coach Brad Kline’s pink tie and socks. The players took the floor sporting pink ribbons in their hair, pink wristbands and pink laces intertwined in their matching sneakers.
The Cardinals donned the bright colors in honor of the program’s annual “Dig Pink” night, an event that honors those who are currently fighting or have previously battled breast cancer.
As the Cardinals captured a 3-1 (25-12, 22-25, 25-15, 25-21) win over Akron (10-9, 5-3 MAC), players and coaches alike devoted their efforts to loved ones who have been afflicted by the disease.
Sophomore opposite Maddison Buckley was playing in honor of her grandmother and her boyfriend’s mother. Given her close relation to breast cancer victims, the Montgomery, Illinois, product highlighted her gratitude to participate in the awareness event.
“It's way bigger than just wearing the bow in your hair and the lace on your shoes,” Buckley said. “It's about playing for a really important cause, and especially when it hits home, it's really even that much more important.”
Senior defensive specialist Kate Vinson expressed a similar sentiment as her teammate, as she played for both of her grandmothers and her aunt.
“I think it's just a lot more than the game,” Vinson said. “It's just a chance for me to show how much strength that they went through in a game.”
Miller Phillips acknowledged the wide-spanning impacts of Dig Pink, saying that “it transcends outside of just our program.”
“Just the ability for us to be able to come out here, spread awareness [and] for the players to be able to tell the stories of their family members and friends is a really important piece of it,” Miller Phillips said.
With the thought of friends and family members at the core of the outing, the Cardinals defeated the visiting Zips for a key Mid-American Conference (MAC) victory. Ball State immediately found its rhythm, taking the first frame, 25-12 — its most decisive set win of the campaign.
“We definitely responded well from a little bit of a letdown to finish last night’s match,” Miller Phillips said. “We talked about [how] we wanted to start strong. We want to make sure we set the tone.”
Although Ball State dropped the second set after falling victim to a late 8-1 Akron run, the Cardinals returned to their first-set ways in the third and fourth frames. The red and white leaned on stifling defense as they closed out the victory.
The Cardinals' blocking attack was the backbone of the strong defensive showing, as it was at the forefront of holding Akron to a .141 hitting percentage. Ball State blockers combined for 12 total blocks, with freshman middle blocker Camryn Wise and Buckley leading the charge with nine and five rejections, respectively.
Sophomore libero Paige Busick anchored Ball State’s back row as she recorded 21 digs, a season-best. Fifth-year libero Havyn Gates also shined in the backcourt, with 15 digs to her credit.
The Aniya Kennedy led offensive attack was also key in the Cardinals’ Friday night win. The redshirt freshman middle blocker posted a career-best 25 kills and chipped in a pair of blocks. Fifth-year middle blocker Marie Plitt was the most efficient starting front-row player, as she notched eight kills at a .400 clip.
Junior setter Megan Wielsonki was active in her setting duties and on the offensive attack, executing a number of setter dumps. The Mason, Ohio, native ended the match with 41 assists and eight kills (a season-high).
Ball State also enjoyed a fine evening from the service line, posting six aces. Plitt led in the service game as she logged three aces on the night.
The Ball State sweep marks the team’s ninth straight win overall and continues its undefeated start (8-0) to MAC play. Buckley underscored the Cardinals’ growing confidence as it progresses through conference play.
“When everyone does their job, we're really really good, and we're staying the course,” Buckley said. “Everyone comes in every day [and] gets it done. We can be great; we have all the pieces when we put them together.”
The Cardinals (11-8, 8-0 MAC) next week will play their first three-match slate of the conference season, hosting Toledo (7-10, 5-1 MAC) Tuesday, Oct. 17 and traveling to Buffalo (15-3, 5-1 MAC) for a pair of matches on Friday, Oct. 20 and Saturday, Oct. 21.
“The key is going to be our recovery mentally, physically, emotionally. Basically, we're playing five matches in 10 days,” Miller Phillips said.
Contact Adam Altobella with comments on X @AltobellaAdam or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.