ATHENS, Ohio -- In a battle fitting the top two teams in the Mid-American Conference, the Ball State women's volleyball team pulled out a thrilling 3-2 (25-21, 17-25, 25-22, 13-25, 15-10) win over Ohio Saturday at the Convocation Center.
With the victory, the Cardinals end the first half of league play in sole possession of first place in the MAC standings with a 7-1 league mark, as part of a 19-4 overall record.
The Bobcats, who were ranked as high as No. 18 in the AVCA Division I Coaches Poll this season, fall to 16-4 (6-2 MAC) with the loss.
"To defeat a great team like Ohio, which was ranked 18th in the country only two weeks ago, is a very positive step forward for Ball State Volleyball," said head coach Steve Shondell. "To win this match on the road makes it more meaningful because Ohio very seldom loses a home match. It took a tremendous team effort from every player to bring the victory back to Muncie and Ball State University."
Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Alex Fuelling (Decatur, Ind./Bellmont/Morehead State) led the Cardinals in the victory, with her fourth consecutive double-double which included a match-high 16 kills and a team-best 23 digs. Fuelling would also serve up a pair of aces, including a pivotal rocket shot to give Ball State a 14-9 edge in the fifth set.
Redshirt freshman Mackenzie Kitchel (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove/Cincinnati) gave the Cardinals a big boost in the decisive fifth frame, racking up six of her 14 kills in the final stanza, including the match-winner.
Also collecting double-digit kills for Ball State was senior middle Mindy Marx (Grand Haven, Mich./Grand Haven) with 10. Marx also tied for team-high honors with four total blocks.
In the backcourt, senior outside hitter Kylee Baker (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield North) tallied a season-best 22 digs, while senior libero Catie Fredrich (Menomonee Falls, Wis./Menomonee Falls) added 21 to help the Ball State defense limit the league's top attacking team to a .205 (61-23-185) rate of success.
Senior setter Jacqui Seidel (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles East) and sophomore setter Jenna Spadafora (Fort Wayne, Ind./Carroll) combined to set the Cardinals to a .162 (60-29-191) attack percentage, with Seidel helping BSU to a .381 (10-2-21) effort in the fifth frame.
Mallory Salis and Katie Horton led the Ohio attack with 12 kills apiece, while Meredith Ashy collected a match-best 31 digs.
With the score of the opening set tied at five, Fuelling smashed a kill and an ace to give Ball State a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the frame. Ohio remained within one point, at 9-8, only to have four more kills from Fuelling help BSU pull ahead by six at 19-13. A kill from Kitchel gave Ball State set point, at 24-21, while Spadafora closed out the frame with a kill of her own on the next rally.
With the Cardinals holding a slim 4-3 edge in the second set, the Bobcats rallied off nine straight points to steal the momentum. Ball State would get no closer than six points the rest of the frame, eventually falling 25-17.
In a back-and-forth battle in the third set, the teams fought to a 21-21 stalemate. Ohio would break the tie with a kill from Salis, only to have Ball State redshirt sophomore opposite Kelly Hopkins (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo) even the frame once again.
The kill proved to be a pivotal one though, as it led to sophomore defensive specialist Kati Vasalakis (Yorktown, Ind./Yorktown) entering to serve. Vasalakis, who tied a career-high with 12 digs in the match, then used her serve to help force three consecutive Bobcat attack errors, allowing Ball State to win the game 25-22.
A kill from redshirt sophomore middle Hayley Benson (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Bradley) helped BSU tie the score of the fourth set at 1-1. Unfortunately for Ball State, that is as close as the frame would get as Ohio posted a dominating 25-13 victory to force a deciding fifth game.
Set five started with the teams playing to a 5-5 tie before a Kitchel kill and a block from Benson and senior opposite Lauren Grant (Eagan, Minn./Eastview/Cincinnati) forced an Ohio timeout with BSU leading 7-5. OU recorded a kill out of the break, but Grant followed with a blast of her own to give Ball State an 8-6 lead at the court switch.
The Bobcats would manage to tie the score at 9, only to have kills from Fuelling and Kitchel help Ball State force another Ohio timeout at the 12-9 mark. Kitchel followed with another blast out of the huddle, while Fueling served up an ace to give Ball State match-point. After an Ohio block, Kitchel would put away the match-winner at 15-10.The Ball State women's volleyball team returns to action Friday, when it hosts Bowling Green for a 7 p.m. first serve at Worthen Arena. The match will be televised live statewide on Comcast Indiana and streamed for free online at BallStateSports.com.