Dec. 3, 2021 (press release)
Ball State Women’s Volleyball Is Still Dancing; Tops Michigan 3-2
Marie Plitt’s 20 kills; solid all-around defensive effort guide Ball State to the third NCAA Tournament win in program history and its first since 1995
LOUISVILLE, KY – – We’re going to round two!
Win No. 30 for the Ball State women’s volleyball team was a big one. In fact, it was the biggest in nearly 30 years as the Cardinals (30-3) picked up their 20th-straight victory with a 3-2 (25-17, 22-25, 25-18, 25-27, 15-8) triumph over Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship.
“It’s hard to put into words how we’re feeling right now,” head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said. “I’m just super proud of my team. We came out and played how we have all year, and I think that’s what I’m most proud about. They just really embraced the moment and found joy in it.”
It was the third NCAA Tournament victory in program history and the first since the Cardinals swept Loyola in the opening round of the 1995 event in Worthen Arena.
Leading the way for the explosive Ball State offense, which hit .237 for the night, was junior middle Marie Plitt who smashed a career-high 20 kills and led all players with a .515 (20-3-33) attack percentage.
In all, four Cardinals reached double figure kills to help the Cardinals tie the longest winning streak in program history. Graduate student outside hitter Jaclyn Bulmahn was second on the squad with 15 kills, while junior middle Lauren Gilliland and junior opposite Natalie Mitchem added 11 apiece.
Gilliland, who also tallied a team-high five total blocks, would provide the biggest blast of the night by ending the match and setting off the Ball State victory celebration.
As strong as BSU’s offense was, the defense was just as good, limiting the nation’s 38th-ranked offense to a .158 (51-25-165) hitting mark. The Wolverines (18-12) entered the night hitting .254 as a team.
“There were times this match mimicked a lot of different situations we were in all year, and I felt like we responded just like we had all year,” Phillips said. “That’s a mark of great leadership, good experience and just really mentally tough players. It feels awesome to be in this position and I’m really proud.”
Leading an impressive performance in the backcourt, which saw the Cardinals out-dig Michigan 84 to 64, was junior Havyn Gates who tied for match-high honors with a Ball State career-high 20 digs.
Junior libero Maggie Huber added 19 digs and served up three of BSU’s five aces, while junior outside Natalie Risi and senior defensive specialist Cathryn Starck registered 17 and 12 digs, respectively.
Connecting it all was Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year setter Megan Wielonski, who dished out 52 assists to guide BSU to its 32nd match hitting above .200 this season in 33 total contests. She also tallied nine digs, three kills, an ace, and a block assist in another solid all-around performance.
The Michigan attack was paced by Paige Jones who tallied a team-best 16 kills. Jess Mruzik was second on the squad with 13, while Hannah Grant tied for match-high honors with 20 digs.
The Wolverines were able to out-block (11 to 8) and out-ace (10 to 5) the Cardinals, but BSU’s tenacious defense and solid offense countered nearly every Michigan blow in the match.
The Ball State women’s volleyball team will play the winner of No. 1 Louisville vs. UIC in Saturday’s 6 p.m. second round match at UofL’s L&N Federal Credit Union Arena.