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Boosted by strong individual performances, Chippewas ride wave of emotion to victory over Ball State


Freshman outside hitter Kalina Smith jumps to spike the ball at the CMU volleyball game against Akron on Oct. 21 in McGuirk Arena. 

In a match with Mid-American Conference implications on the line, the Central Michigan volleyball team delivered against Ball State.

The Chippewas (15-2, 5-0) took care of the Cardinals (9-8, 3-2), 3-1, Friday in McGuirk Arena. 

But it wasn't without toughness, especially in crunch time. 

Down 23-20 in the third set, CMU coach Mike Gawlik called a much-needed timeout. 

His team was in danger of falling behind two sets to one to Ball State, who was tabbed as the top team in the MAC West Division preseason polls.

The Chippewas had already dropped the first set, 26-24, despite leading for the majority of the set. After taking the second handily, they had fallen behind in set three and were facing a juncture in the match.

Gawlik took a timeout to gather his team together. 

However, at the center of the huddle was junior defensive specialist Hannah Warners, who is currently out with a concussion. The brain injury didn't stop her from inspiring the team. 

"We've done this all week," Warners told the team, referencing a drill in which the team was forced to rally back from a predetermined deficit.

After hearing that from Warners, the players shifted their focus.

"I felt like she changed the perspective," Gawlik said of Warners. 

"We went out there with that (come from behind) mindset, instead of thinking, 'Oh crap, we're down,'" said junior outside hitter Kalina Smith. "Those situations in practice help prepare us for the game."

Smith quickly earned two kills, and junior middle blocker Lisbeth Rosario-Martinez completed the comeback with a block, giving the Chippewas a pivotal victory in the third set. 

After that, there was no looking back.

CMU won the fourth set, 25-19, stretched its win streak to 10 games and a two-game lead in the MAC West Division.

Smith had a phenomenal all-around night for the Chippewas. She contributed 17 kills in addition to 26 digs, both of which were team highs. 

Rosario-Martinez scored 11 kills on a .483 hitting percentage.

Sophomore outside hitter Savannah Thompson had 10 kills and 24 digs, while senior libero Megan Kern had 20 digs of her own. 

Smith and Rosario-Martinez each credited their performance to the solid showing from the Chippewas' two setters, Grace Butler and Kendall Braate. The pairing combined for 54 assists. 

"My setters do a nice job of giving me a nice, high ball to swing on," Smith said. "It's not hard to kill balls when you have setters and defensive players like I do on my team." 

The win propels the Chippewas have a quick turnaround for their next match against Toledo at 8 p.m. Saturday in McGuirk Arena.