BY MATT VERNIER | Ball State Sports Link
Just three weeks into the season, the Ball State men’s volleyball team will have logged over 10,000 miles traveled. After opening the season in Hawaii two weeks ago, this week the Cardinals head to the East Coast with matches at Harvard and Sacred Heart.
The Cardinals opened their season in Hawaii Jan. 5 facing Princeton (W, 3-2, 25-17, 22-25, 23-25, 25-19, 21-19).
Sophomore middle blocker Parker Swartz said he felt like his team was a little too excited rather than completely focused during the game causing them to not play as well as they hoped.
“I think the excitement was definitely there against Princeton,” Swartz said. “And from being so far away there was not very many people there.”
Even though Ball State did not have a large crowd for their first game of the season, they were able to keep their motivation and confidence running high.
Getting ready to kick off the 2017 season against @PrincetonVolley tonight in beautiful Hawaii! #NCAAVB pic.twitter.com/bXVvxQmFLV
— BSU Men's Volleyball (@BallStateMVB) January 5, 2017
After a second win 24 hours later against Erskine College (W, 3-0, 25-19, 25-10, 25-15), Ball State’s next match was for the championship of the 2017 Outrigger Hotels Invitational against then No. 7 Hawaii.
“The emotion was absolutely crazy, ” Swartz said. “It was the end of the season playoff type of feel.”
Not only were emotions high, but fans made the atmosphere even more intense. With an official attendance of 3,373, it’s safe to say the two ranked teams playing against each other was a big deal.
Unfortunately, Ball State suffered a tough loss (L, 3-1, 25-22, 17-25, 23-25, 21-25).
“It’s hard when you’re playing that far from home,’ Swartz said. “They have a really awesome fan base and made it even tougher to play against a great team.”
Traveling is not the easiest thing either when a majority of the team is around 6-foot-5. From a five-hour time difference and a total of five flights, a post road trip slump might be expected when the Cardinals opened its home season Jan. 12 vs. Saint Francis.
“After being in a middle seat between Matt Walsh and Matt Szews, I’ve never felt so small in my life,” Swartz said. “But coming home, if our team would have taken a rest, our team would have been unprepared for the two matches later that week.”
Just us middles and coach climbing Diamond Head #hawaii pic.twitter.com/wRwZG1Jqxj
— Parker Swartz (@pswizzle09) January 8, 2017
Instead, Ball State defended its homecourt with a 3-0 sweep of Saint Francis, before handing No. 14 Penn State a 3-1 setback the following night.
The team’s early success can’t come without great team chemistry. One person in particular is freshman, Matt Szews.
The 6-foot-8 outside has pounded 13-or-more kills in four of the team’s five matches, including 14 in last week’s 3-1 win over No. 14 Penn State. He’s totaled 68 kills and hitting .295 for the season.
As much as Szews is the focus of the offensive, Ball State has already captured two Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Defensive Players of the Week. Freshman Nick LaVanchy earned the honor after the trip to Hawaii, while senior Connor Gross locked up the award this week.
Gross averaged 3.29 digs per set in Ball State’s victories over the Red Flash and Nittany Lions. The senior setter tallied 11 in Ball State’s sweep of SFU. He turned in 12 digs with three blocks (one solo) against PSU.
“We have a long road trip again this weekend and we are used to it,” Swartz said. “Which is good at this point in the season already. We just have to keep the energy up and make sure that we are always focused for each game.”