Muncie, Ind. - Playing in a tough environment against a rival conference opponent, the Loyola men's volleyball team stood up to the challenge in a big way on Saturday night, cruising to a 3-1 win over Ball State in Muncie, Ind.
Loyola remains unbeaten in MIVA play in 2011, moving to 4-0. The Ramblers have won four straight matches and improve to 9-3 overall. Ball State falls to 6-6 (1-3 MIVA) with the loss.
In the first set, Loyola moved out to a 9-7 lead thanks to a pair of Mike Bunting kills and a handful of Cardinal service and attack errors. Kills from Joseph Smalzer and Eric Daliege midway through grew the Rambler lead to 17-13. With Ball State hanging around late in the frame, Loyola finished the opening set strong, earning a trio of points from Bunting, Daliege and Mike Hutz to win the frame, 25-21.
In the following set, the visiting Ramblers once again took an early lead at 4-3. Ball State fought back with back-to-back kills and a Daliege attack error to give the home team its first lead in the match. Improving the advantage to 17-13, the Cardinal frontline continued to find holes in the Rambler defense, picking up kills to take the set down to its final points. A Bunting attack error and Graham McIlaine kill sealed set two for Ball State, 25-22.
The tightly played match continued into the third set, as both teams came back from intermission looking to break the 1-1 tie. Fortunately for Loyola, the offense came out swinging on all cylinders.
Despite trailing 5-3 early in the frame, the Ramblers mixed up its offensive approach to throw off the Ball State defense. The strategy worked, as Smalzer, Bunting, Hutz and Steve Thompson all found points to provide Loyola a 14-13 lead. Holding the advantage at 21-18, the Ramblers earned a service ace from Dainis Berzins and a kill from Daliege, bringing the frame to 24-21. At set point, Ball State fired a serve straight into the net, resulting in a point and set win for Loyola, 25-21.
In the final set, the Cardinals made every last effort to get back into the match, and found themselves ahead 5-3 early on. Bunting brought Loyola back with three kills and Smalzer added two points to give the visitors the lead at 12-11. From here, the Rambler offense turned up the attack after going on a 7-4 run, taking the set into match point. Ball State took the serve at 24-18 and produced one of its 14 service errors in the match, providing Loyola the important road win.
Smalzer led the Ramblers with a career-high 19 kills. Bunting had a steady night with 15 kills. Hutz mustered 24 assists, while Kyle Exline added a season-high 19 dimes.
Loyola returns home to face Lewis on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at Alumni Gym. First serve is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CST.