For the first time in a decade, Ball State and BYU will play a non-conference match against each other.
Ball State coach Joel Walton said in an interview with Off the Block on Wednesday that the Cardinals and Cougars have agreed to play a two-match series during the 2015 season in Provo, Utah.
This will be the first meeting between the two teams since BYU defeated Ball State in the 2005 Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic championship match. In addition, Ball State has not played a road non-conference match at BYU since 2002.
BYU enters the upcoming season as the two-time defending MPSF championships. The Cougars return a majority of starters from last year’s team that reached the NCAA Tournament semifinals but will have to replace All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander, the 2014 AVCA National Player of the Year.
Ball State has four returning starters and is coming off of its second consecutive season with at least 20 wins. The team also reached the MIVA Tournament semifinals last season before losing on the road to Lewis.
Walton said he initially entered the 2015 scheduling process not planning to play BYU but rather tried to set-up a two-match road series against Hawai’i. The coach said, though, the two teams were not able to find playing dates that work with their schedules resulting in Ball State having to revamp its non-conference schedule.
“As I began to start talking to other West Coast teams to find another situation where we can play someone on the West Coast, I ran into [BYU coach] Chris McGown,” Walton said. “They had an open date.”
The BYU series will be part of a four-match West Coast road trip for Ball State in March.
Ball State following its two matches against BYU will play road matches against UC Irvine and UC San Diego.
“I think we have a really good non-conference schedule,” Walton said.
This will be the most non-conference matches the Cardinals have played against the MPSF in a single-season since 2008. Ball State that season went 3-3 versus the MPSF, including two home victories against UCLA.
Walton said it was somewhat easier to schedule non-conference matches against the MPSF for the upcoming season because the conference reduced its league schedule from 24 to 22 matches. In addition, the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s emphasis on encouraging more non-conference matches, Walton said, played a role in his team’s 2015 schedule.
“Anything that the NCAA can do encourage inter-conference competition is going to be a good thing,” Walton said. “If the NCAA Tournament selection process encourages teams to play outside of their conference than that’s fantastic.”