MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – A massive win to set the tone for the Mid-American Conference season.
The Central Michigan volleyball team started league play the right way on Friday by taking down defending MAC Tournament champion Ball State in four sets.
The Chippewas, who are 8-4 overall, will conclude the two-match series with the Cardinals (8-5) on Saturday (4 pm).
“More than anything, we used nonconference play to prepare ourselves to get into conference play,” CMU coach Mike Gawlik said. “All the things that were good in nonconference play we want to carry with us, and all the things that caught us off guard or weren’t great, we need to learn from.
“When we start the MAC season, and I said this down in the locker room, everybody’s 0-0. We haven’t practiced (in McGuirk) a lot; we’re excited to be back home after being on the road and we wanted to put our flag down and say that we were a team that needs to be, you know, dealt with in this league and I thought we did a really good job today of staying the course.”
A struggling start gave Ball State the go-ahead in the 25-18 first set, as the Cardinals led 15-6 before CMU found its footing. Maddie Whitfield led the Chippewas with five kills in the second set, tallying as many as three in a row for a 10-7 lead as CMU followed with a six-point run, later claiming the set 25-20.
The Chippewas found themselves down early again in sets three and four and fought back one point at a time with small mid-set runs in between. CMU claimed seven of the final 10 points in both sets, winning 25-22 and 25-19.
Elly Medendorp led the Chippewas with a career-high 14 kills on 25 attempts for a team-high .520 hitting percentage. Mallory Hernandez followed with 12 kills, while Anna Erickson had 11.
Senior middle blocker Maddie Whitfield finished with 10 kills on a .471 hitting percentage, paired with four blocks.
CMU freshman setter Claire Ammeraal posted a .467 hitting percentage, tallying seven kills and 44 assists. Libero Aly Gurtiza finished with 21 digs.
The Chippewas finished with a .316 hitting percentage, their second best of the season. Ball State hit .250.
“We sat down in our locker room and said that the top of the ‘MAC mountain’ goes through Muncie Indiana until we prove otherwise,” Gawlik said. “(The Cardinals) have separated themselves as being a really elite team in our league and they deserve every bit of that, and our goal right now is to nudge our way into that top group and say that on any given night, we can beat anybody.
“I feel strongly about that, and I think we proved that tonight. The challenge becomes, ‘How consistently can we bring that and how well can we come out tomorrow, be refocused and start a brand new match?’
“That’s the challenge; it’s a really good measuring stick at the beginning of the league; they’re really good, but we’re really good too.”