MUNCIE, Ind. – A bittersweet end to a hard fought and memorable season.
The Central Michigan volleyball team’s journey to the Mid-American Conference Tournament ended Monday in the semifinals when the Chippewas lost in four sets to host and No. 1 Ball State at Worthen Arena.
The Chippewas fell, 25-23, 18-25, 23-25, 22-25.
CMU finished 20-11. The Cardinals (24-7) advance to the championship to play the winner of second-place Bowling Green and sixth-place Buffalo. Ball State is the defending champion of the MAC tournament.
“I told the group at the end that I’m really proud of how we played,” said the CMU coach Mike Gawlik said. “We said if we played really, really well we would put ourselves in a position to win and I felt like that was true, but we didn’t win.
“I thought we would be able to win… in three of the four sets we were able to finish it. We’ve had some big games from players on our team and we’ve had people level up in big moments and I’m sure if we watch videos there will be some moments where we grow, learn from and do better next time want to be.
“But I didn’t think we lost because we backed out. I didn’t think we were scared of the moment.”
Just like in Sunday’s quarterfinals against Toledo, the Chippewas set the tone in the opener, having pulled away from a 13-13 draw. CMU reached the set point, 24-22, to force the Cardinals’ second timeout of the set. An attacking error gave Ball State a point to reduce it to 24-23 and then one Anna Ericson kill finished it off and gave the Chippewas a one-set lead.
Ball State reversed the script and led 21-13 in the second set that decided the match. The Chippewas would come no closer than five points the rest of the way.
CMU broke away briefly and led by a four-point jump, 18-14, but was short-lived as an 8-1 run Ball State gave the 22-19 lead in the decider that contained 10 ties. Despite the Chippewas scoring four of the last seven points of the set, the Cardinals went up 2-1 in the game.
A hard-fought final produced 14 draws, the last 20-20. As Ball State went up, 23-20, a kill by Mallory Hernandez and double block off Elly Medendorp and Claire Ammeral slowed the momentum, taking the Chippewas to 1, 23-22, but they weren’t getting close. Ball State’s Natalie Mitchem threw down the final two kills of the set for the win.
Hernandez, a senior, delivered 18 kills for a .304 batting average. Erickson, also in her final season with the Chippewas, finished with 11 kills.
Medendorp finished the tournament with 10 kills and seven blocks as a freshman setter Claire Ammeral contributed 46 assists, 14 digs and seven blocks.
Natalia Rejment and senior middle blocker Maddie Whitfield had eight kills each. Second sweeper Ali Gurtiza done with 26 digs.
The Chippewas finished 20-11, including 12-6 in MAC matches. It was the second time CMU had won 20 games since 2007, and their 12 league wins were a highlight in Gawlik’s seven years at the helm of the program.
CMU’s quarter-final win over Toledo was their first win in the MAC tournament since 2011.
“I’m proud of the group and I think we played really good ball,” said Gawlik, whose team won two games from Ball State in late September to open MAC play. “It hurts to pull out of a tournament you think you can win and I think we could have beat Ball State… I’m really proud of how we did after that.
“We were right there and it stings but I think that will push us in the off-season to be better later for that moment. I think maybe that Ball State experience was something that (she) kept simple. together in some bigger moments and that’s something we’re gaining now and something we can capitalize on when we get back here.”