UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Ball State men’s volleyball team dropped a tightly contested match with No. 12 Penn State 3-1 (16-25, 25-22, 25-16, 25-22) Saturday afternoon at the Rec Hall South Gym. Larry Wrather and Marcin Niemczewski guided the offense while Matt Leske and Shane Witmer patrolled the net.
Coming into the match Penn State had swept IPFW and Ohio State and had not dropped a set since its 3-1 loss to Hawaii on Jan. 10 in the Outrigger Invitational. With the win Penn State improves to 3-2 on the year while Ball State falls to 1-3.
Wrather finished with a season-high 11 kills, three assists and five digs. Niemczewski equaled Wrather’s kill count with 11 to go with a career-high six digs and three assisted blocks. Witmer and Leske were not far off in the kills department at nine and eight each. Leske managed a .467 attack percentage (8-1-15) and a career-high tying three service aces. Graham McIlvaine had 39 assists to go with three kills and four digs.
Witmer was credited with a solo block and six assisted blocks while Leske helped on six blocks. Witmer also added six digs while David Ryan Vander Meer had a team-high seven digs. Kevin Owens added four assisted blocks of his own to go with five kills.
Ball State held the advantage in attack percentage at .257 (47-19-109) – .246 (49-21-114). The Cardinals also had 11.5 total team blocks to the Nittany Lions’ nine. Both teams had five service aces but Ball State was hindered by its 15 service errors. Penn State had 10 service errors on the night.
The Cardinals started off the first set with a kill from Wrather, an ace from McIlvaine and a kill from Leske. Ball State maintained a lead throughout the first set, pushing its lead to as many as seven when the score read 18-11 after a Penn State attack error. Niemczewski was able to seal the 25-16 first set win with a kill from Vander Meer.
There were six ties in the early going of the second set, but the Nittany Lions capitalized on three straight kills to take a 10-7 lead. The Cardinals would battle back but a Penn State kill, two aces and a Ball State attack error gave the Nittany Lions a 16-11 edge. Ball State benefitted from an Owens-Witmer block, a Witmer kill and two Penn State attack errors to come back within two points of Penn State, 17-15.
As the Nittany Lions began to pull away in the second set the Cardinals capitalized on kills from Niemczewski and Wrather, a Leske-Witmer block and a Nittany Lions ball handling error to come within one point, 21-20. The set ended 25-22 off a kill from PSU’s Peter Russell.
The third set started off back and forth before Penn State went on a run to extend their lead to 14-9. Ball State attack errors and tough kills from Penn State extend the advantage to as many as eight down the stretch for the Nittany Lions in the third frame. Penn State won the third set off an ace from Nick Goddell, his third of the match up to that point.
The Cardinals jumped out to an early 6-3 lead, causing the Nittany Lions to call a timeout. An ace by Leske would give the Cardinals a 7-3 advantage. The fourth set went back and forth before Penn State went on a 4-0 run aided by two service aces from Matt Seifert to take a 10-9 lead causing Ball State to call a timeout.
The two squads battled back and forth knotting things at 21-all off a McIlvaine kill. A Penn State kill and Ball State attack error gave the Nittany Lions a 23-22 lead. Penn State would rattle off two straight kills to take the match.
Penn State was led by Aaron Russell with 21 kills followed by his brother Peter Russell with 14 kills.
The Cardinals are back in action on Friday, Jan. 24 hosting McKendree for a 7:30 p.m. match. Be sure to follow the team on Twitter at @BallStateMVB.