MUNCIE, Ind. - - The first-place Ball State women’s volleyball team turned in one of its best performances of the season in a dominating 3-0 (25-16, 25-14, 25-12) sweep of Mid-American Conference West Division foe Central Michigan Friday night at Worthen Arena.
In improving to 21-5 (9-2 MAC), the Cardinals picked up their second straight win over the Chippewas (11-12/5-6 MAC) by never trailing in a match which also only saw four ties. East Division leader Ohio kept pace with Ball State in the race for the MAC crown, improving to 9-2 in league action with a sweep of Akron.
“We had fantastic defense tonight,” said Ball State head coach Steve Shondell. “This team realizes we’re at clinch time in conference play. Every match, they have to come out ready to go, because if you don’t, you are going to pay the price.”
For the third consecutive match, senior opposite Lauren Grant (Eagan, Minn./Eastview/Cincinnati) paved the way for the Ball State offense, racking up a match-best 11 kills while hitting for a .500 (11-2-18) rate of success. Grant has smashed double-figure kills in each of the last three matches, including a career-best 17 last Friday versus Bowling Green.
“Lauren Grant has become our go-to player with both Fuelling and Kitchel unable to play,” said Shondell about the senior’s play of late. “The last few matches, Lauren has taken her game to the level I always knew she was capable of reaching, and we thank her for it.”
Senior outside hitter Kylee Baker (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield North) blasted double-digit kills for the third consecutive match with 10. She also logged seven digs, a service ace and a solo block.
Redshirt sophomore Kelly Hopkins (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo) also turned in a strong outing, blasting eight kills and hitting a career-best .429 (8-2-14) despite starting on the left side for the first time in her career. Hopkins, who normally plays opposite or in the middle, also collected a pair of digs.
Rounding out Ball State’s top attackers was redshirt sophomore middle Hayley Benson (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Bradley), who recorded eight kills and a .412 (8-1-17) attack percentage.
Senior setter Jacqui Seidel (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles East) guided the Ball State offense to a .356 (45-13-90) rate of success in the victory, which is the team’s third-best effort of the season. After a slow start in the opening set, the Cardinals offense connected for a .452 (17-3-31) effort in the second and a .611 (13-2-18) mark in the third. Seidel finished the night with 36 assists, five digs and a pair of block assists.
In the Ball State backcourt, senior libero Catie Fredrich (Menomonee Falls, Wis./Menomonee Falls) led all players with 15 digs. Overall, the BSU defense out-dug the Chippewas, 42-30.
In addition, the Cardinals attack limited the league’s top defender entering the match, CMU’s Jenna Coates, to just nine digs. Katie Schuette paced the Central Michigan attack, which was limited to a .154 (28-14-91) attack percentage, with 10 kills.
The Cardinals opened the match with kills from Baker and Grant, on their way to an early 8-3 advantage. With Ball State leading 12-5, the Chippewas block came to life with three stuffs over the next four rallies to bring the score to 12-9. However, the Cardinals countered with a four-point run of their own, which included a pair of Baker kills, to reclaim the seven-point lead at 16-9.
Ball State cruised from there, winning the set 25-16 on a service ace from freshman defensive specialist Nikki Box (Yorktown, Ind./Yorktown).
Grant opened the second set with back-to-back blasts to help the Cardinals pull out to a quick 4-1 edge. CMU scored the next two points, only to see Ball State rattle off four of the next five to make the score 8-4. The Cardinals carried the momentum from there, building a 10-point cushion at 18-8 before easily winning the set 25-14 on a smash from Baker.
After the teams traded the first six point of the third set, a CMU service error followed by an ace from sophomore defensive specialist Kati Vasalakis (Yorktown, Ind./Yorktown) helped Ball State pull ahead 7-3 and force a Chippewas timeout. Vasalakis posted another ace after the break and CMU was forced to call its second timeout trailing 13-5.
Ball State pulled ahead by 10 points for the first time in the set off a Baker kill at 16-6, while sophomore setter Jenna Spadafora (Fort Wayne, Ill./Carroll) served up a match-capping ace at 25-12 in her lone touch of the ball in the match.The Ball State women’s volleyball team returns to action Saturday, when it celebrates senior night with a 7 p.m. first serve versus Eastern Michigan. Prior to the start of the match, Ball State will honor its five-member senor class which includes Baker, Fredrich, Grant, Seidel and senior middle Mindy Marx (Grand Haven, Mich./Grand Haven).