CMU volleyball stuns Ball State in MAC opener

Junior Elly Medendorp and freshman Claire Ammeraal go up for a block Friday, Sep. 23, in McGuirk Arena.

Central Michigan volleyball came into its home opener on Friday having to face its biggest test in the Mid-American Conference, Ball State. 

Entering as reigning MAC West Champions, Ball State was considered the favorite, but that didn’t phase the Chippewas as they defeated the Cardinals 3-1 (18-25, 25-20,25-22, 25-19) to improve to 8-4 overall and 1-0 in conference play.

“I think they are really good, but I think we are really good too,” said head coach Mike Gawlik. “When two teams go toe-to-toe, my message to the team in the locker room is we all had a decision to come to Central Michigan, and we all made that decision to come here to play in matches like this. Matches that matter, matches on our home floor, matches against good teams. We all chose to be here.”

Junior middle blocker Elly Medendorp led the offensive effort for the Chippewas with a career-high 14 kills on a .520 hitting percentage. 

“Volleyball is a huge team sport,” Medendorp said. “When the six people are out there working their butts off, and you have your bench players who are out there cheering their hearts out for you, it gives you the confidence to keep going.” 

Freshman setter Claire Ammeraal set up CMU's offensive effort with 44 assists as well as adding seven kills on a .467 hitting percentage. She also tallied eight digs and one ace on the night. 

“Claire (Ammeraal) is a really interesting setter,” Gawlik said. “She does things differently and she puts a different kind of pressure on the blocker and the blocking unit because of her ability to attack. That’s something that we have wanted to lean into for a little while… (Ammeraal) and Elly Medendorp really worked so well tonight. Claire going seven for 15 and Elly hitting .520. The two are next to each other in the rotation and when you don’t know who you have to focus on, you know, that creates good opportunity.”

Ball State jumped out early on the Chippewas following a four-point run to begin the first set. CMU struggled to find momentum until Medendorp took over. She had three kills and a block during a six-point run that cut Ball State’s lead to four. However, the comeback effort wasn’t enough as the Chippewas dropped the first set, 25-18. 

Medendorp and senior middle blocker Maddie Whitefield shined in the second set, as the Chippewas took its first lead of the match. CMU kept its foot on the pedal as the lead grew to 17-12, forcing a Ball State timeout. The Cardinals rallied to shrink CMU’s lead down to two, but the Chippewas regained their momentum and finished off the second set, 25-20, to tie the match at one. 

Ball State charged ahead to start the third set, but CMU bounced back as Whitfield helped cut the Cardinal lead to three. Both teams traded the lead, as senior outside hitter Mallory Hernandez helped the Chippewas keep pace. But after three-straight CMU kills electrified McGuirk Arena, the momentum changed. As a result, the Chippewas took set three, 25-22, to give them the 2-1 lead in the match. 

CMU fell behind 11-9, in the fourth set, but it didn't last long, as a five-point run put it ahead 13-11. The Chippewas maintained a small lead throughout the set. But after widening the gap, an ace from sophomore outside hitter Linnea Willer secured the 3-1 match win. 

During its non-conference schedule, CMU has made a habit of battling back after dropping its first set. Ammeraal attributes the teams' resiliency to a growing trust amongst the team.

“I think usually it’s a big kill from somebody, and it restores our energy and trust in each other,” Ammeraal said. “The way our coach says all the time, you have to believe in the people on your team to succeed. You know, I think once we start believing in each other, we really start meshing together and things start going our way.” 

Hernandez finished the day with 12 kills along with three blocks. Whitfield recorded 10 kills and four blocks, while Rejment put up 11 kills and 13 digs. 

The Chippewas will look to complete the series sweep against Ball State on Saturday at 4 p.m in McGuirk Arena.