Ball State women’s volleyball has enjoyed the most success against Toledo — one of its closest neighbors in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) — of any Cardinals athletic program in recent years. The red and white entered Tuesday night’s clash with five consecutive wins over the Rockets, the longest active streak among the school’s 18 varsity sports teams.
Ball State extended its recent spurt of dominance to 10 straight victories, defeating Toledo (8-12, 6-3 MAC) in a quick 3-0 (25-22, 25-21, 25-21) match.
“I thought we grinded that one out,” head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said. “We were certainly not sharp the whole time, but I felt like we were working really hard the whole time. Sometimes you just have matches like that.”
The match opened with an ace from junior libero Kendall Seimet, which previewed how the remainder of the match would unfold. Ball State navigated to the sweep by leaning on a consistent service game and a firm block, as its normally prolific offense was stymied by Toledo’s stingy defense for most of the night.
The Cardinals’ servers fired six service aces, their twelfth match this season with more than five. Seimet led the red and white at the service line with three aces, followed by senior libero Kate Vinson, fifth-year libero Havyn Gates and junior setter Megan Wielsonski, who each logged one.
The Ball State block continued its recent success in the front row as it recorded eight total blocks. Fifth-year middle blocker Marie Plitt and sophomore opposite Maddison Buckley combined to lead the charge, with each player registering three rejections.
Miller Phillips also cited the Cardinals’ improved service return as a key to their win. Coming off a weekend series which saw Ball State allow nine service aces to Akron, the Cardinals conceded just one to Toledo.
“That certainly has been a focus for us every single day,” Miller Phillips said. “Sometimes that's a double edged sword because we want to put in a ton of work, but it's also a very mental skill.”
Though Toledo won the offensive battle, claiming a seven kill advantage, Ball State still received fine efforts from its hitters. Redshirt freshman middle blocker Aniya Kennedy, on the heels of her second-straight MAC West Offensive Player of the Week award, led the offense with 12 kills at a .200 clip. Plitt was Ball State’s most efficient hitter (.579 hitting percentage) while posting 11 kills.
“[Toledo’s] block was one-on-one most of the time,” Plitt said. “I know when I'm one-on-one I gotta put it away. That’s my job.”
Alongside fellow underclassman Kennedy in the front row, freshman outside hitter Kendall Barnes shined as she earned the most court time of her young career. In her first full match of the season, the 6-foot-1-inch Tennessee native recorded five kills, a block and a pair of digs.
“She has been working so hard in practice, and she has been tearing it up,” Miller Phillips said. “It's one of those things where when you just feel like you need a spark, [and] it's so great to be able to have someone that you feel like can come in and just provide just a little bit of a different look.”
In her fifth season in Muncie, Plitt is looking to mentor young players like Kennedy and Barnes.
“There was a senior my freshman year and I was like ‘She's my idol,’” Plitt said. “I've just made a point to make relationships with them.”
Wielosnki enjoyed another notable performance directing the Cardinals offense. The 5-foot-10-inch standout recorded 41 assists and 11 digs, marking her tenth double-double of the campaign.
Ball State’s defense was built on contributions from a variety of backcourt players. The red and white’s 43 digs were dispersed amongst nine Cardinals, with Wielonski and Gates (eight digs) leading the effort.
Ball State (12-8, 9-0 MAC) will make its longest journey of the conference season this weekend as the Cardinals travel to Buffalo for a pair of matches. The Cardinals take on the Bulls (17-4, 7-2 MAC) at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, and at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21.
Buffalo holds the MAC’s second-highest overall wins mark,features one of the conference’s top offenses (logging 13.25 kills/set) and most consistent defenses (holding opponents to a .187 hitting %).