MUNCIE, Ind. - - With the crowd going wild around him, freshman outside attacker Larry Wrather (Lake Bluff, Ill./Lake Forrest H.S.) put an exclamation point on the biggest victory of the season for the Ball State men’s volleyball team with a monster solo block capping a 3-0 (30-24, 30-28, 30-22) sweep of third-ranked Cal State Northridge Saturday evening at Worthen Arena.
With the win, the Cardinals spilt a pair of matches versus the Matadors in the 2010 Don Shondell/Active Ankle Challenge and improved to 13-8 on the year. CSUN heads home with a 16-7 record and their first loss to a non-ranked opponent this season.
“I thought game one was critical for us tonight,” said Ball State head coach Joel Walton. “We needed to send a message and try to get Cal State Northridge out of their rhythm. They played really well last night despite being on the road. Tonight our guys got into some great places and made their attackers, especially their middles, very uncomfortable. I thought our serving game was also a critical factor tonight, because we served tough and made it hard for them to run their middle offense.”
Overall, the Cardinals dominated play at the net and from the attack line, with junior middle attacker Anders Nelson (St. Croix Falls, Wis./St. Croix Falls H.S.) providing 11 kills and a match-best eight total blocks (one solo and seven assists). Playing against one of the top middle tandems in the nation, Nelson paced all players with a match-high .529 (11-2-17) attack percentage.
Junior outside attacker Lee Meyer (Cincinnati, Ohio/Moeller H.S.) added a team-high 12 kills in the win, hitting for a .421 (12-4-19) rate of success himself. Wrather finished the night with nine kills and four total blocks, including the match-winner.
In the backcourt, Ball State senior libero Billy Ebel (Lenexa, Kan./Bishop Miege H.S.) earned a match-best nine digs, while senior outside attacker Eric Schulte (Shorewood, Wis./Shorewood H.S.) added seven. Senior setter Ethan Pheister (Shorewood, Wis./Shorewood H.S.) dished out a match-best 40 assists, while racking up six digs and two aces.
As a team, the Cardinals finished the contest with 15.5 team blocks and a .305 (46-17-95) attack percentage, while limiting Cal State Northridge to a .140 (40-25-107) attacking mark and just six total blocks. BSU also held a 34 to 27 edge in digs, including 19 in the opening game.
CSUN’s John Baker paced all players with a match-high 13 kills, while BSU limited last night’s top attacker Kevin McKniff to just seven kills and 16 swings. The Cardinals also shutdown 7-2 middle attacker Jacek Ratajczak for the second-straight night, holding the nation’s third-best attacker to just six kills and a .118 hitting mark. Ratajczak score eight kills and hit .176 in Friday’s series opener.
The match opened with the teams battling to a 12-12 deadlock in the first set before a pair of CSUN miscues gave Ball State a two point lead and the first momentum swing of the night. After a Ratajczak kill brought the guests back within one, two Schulte kills surrounding a BSU block (Nelson and Wrather) and a Wrather kill, sparked a 4-0 BSU run, pushing the score to 18-13.
With the Cardinals maintaining a four-point lead at 22-18, a Meyer kill, a Pheister ace and a block from Meyer and J.D. Gasparovic (St. Louis, Mo./Oakville H.S.) upped the advantage to seven at 25-18. The Cardinals went on to reach game-point at 29-20 thanks to a Nelson kill. While CSUN scored the next four points, Ball State would win the frame 30-24 thanks to a Theo Edwards attack error.
The second frame was the closest of the night with 11 ties and nine lead changes. The Matadors jumped out to an early 6-3 edge thanks to three Baker kills and a McKniff ace, only to see BSU rally back and tie the set at 11 on Pheister’s second ace of the evening. From there, the teams battled to a 23-23 stalemate, before kills from Wrather and Nelson forced a CSUN timeout at 25-23.
The teams traded the next four points before a block from Nelson and Pheister gave the Cardinals a three-point lead at 28-25. The Matadors responded with the next two points, including a Baker kill, before a Schulte marker gave the hosts game-point at 29-27. Following a Northridge block and a Ball State timeout, Meyer sliced the frame-winning kill through the CSUN defense.
Another battle ensued early in the third game, as Cal State Northridge held on to a slim one-point lead at 15-14. After a kill from Gasparovic tied the stanza on the next play, the Cardinals rattled off four more points, including a pair of block and a Schulte kill, to take control of the game at 19-15.
After CSUN’s second timeout, the teams traded four points before a Wrather ace extended the lead to five at 22-17. Moments later, back-to-back kills from Meyer and Gasparovic gave the Cardinals a six-point advantage at 24-18. Another Meyer kill at gave BSU match-point, setting up Warther’s match-winning solo block at 30-22.
The Ball State men’s volleyball team returns to action next Thursday, when No. 6 Penn State makes its annual trip to Muncie for a 7:30 p.m. first serve at Worthen Arena.