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Cardinals volleyball flies to another historic season

A MAC regular season title, MAC postseason accolades, and a trip to the NCAA tournament capped off yet another successful season for Kelli Miller Phillip’s Ball State team.

Syndication: The Star Press Jordan Kartholl / The Star Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

In the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Ball State women’s volleyball squad fell by a score of 0-3 to Marquette, who finished #16 in the final AVCA coaches poll.

Marie Plitt, Cait Snider, and Natalie Mitchem shined offensively in their outings. However, their efforts came up just short, as the Golden Eagles’ .369 hitting percentage and 9 aces overwhelmed the Cardinals’ defense.

Although this marks the end of the season for Kelli Miller Phillips’ crew, the 2022 season was another memorable one for the program. The squad finished 24-9 overall, and 15-3 in conference play.

On the heels of a historic 30-win 2021 season in which the Cardinals advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, expectations were high in Muncie, especially with the team’s nucleus returning. Ball State met these expectations, and left nothing to be desired with the way it opened the 2022 campaign.

To start the season, the Cardinals traveled to Tampa to participate in the USF Tournament from August 26-27.

In the first round of the early season tournament, the Cardinals defeated South Alabama, a team fresh off a 2021 NCAA tournament appearance, 3-1. Ball State followed that performance with hard-fought wins against USF and William & Mary.

The Cardinals left the Sunshine State as USF Tournament champions, and looked to continue their momentum in the Lipscomb Tournament and Ball State Tournament, which the program was slated to compete in over the next two weekends.

The squad continued to soar, as they compiled a 5-1 combined record in the events, and captured the Ball State Tournament crown. En route to this success, the Cardinals knocked off two major conference foes: Oklahoma and Alabama.

The Alabama match was especially notable, as it drew 1,517 fans to Worthen Arena. This marked the largest crowd for the program in the last five seasons.

Although the Cardinals opened with tournament titles and notable victories, the team hit a skid in the final weeks of September, dropping five consecutive matches.

Unshaken by this streak, Miller Phillips led her team back to its early season path.

The Cardinals fired off 13 straight victories against MAC opponents, and were undefeated in the entire month of October. Over this span, Ball State picked up an impressive 3-0 road victory against Bowling Green.

However, Ball State’s win streak came to an end with a 1-3 setback at Ohio on November 11.

Despite this loss, two victories to close out the season secured a second-consecutive and tenth-overall regular season MAC title, and ensured that the Cardinals would host the MAC tournament.

In the semifinal of the MAC tournament, Ball State defeated the Central Michigan Chippewas, a team which accounted for two of the Cardinals’ three MAC losses.

The semifinal victory set up a championship match against Bowling Green, making it a rematch of last year’s tournament finale.

In a closely contested five set battle, the Falcons avenged their 2021 loss, and defeated Ball State 3-2.

Despite the loss in the conference championship, Ball State was awarded an at-large bid to the NCAA national tournament. This marked the program’s third tournament trip in the last four seasons. No other Ball State program has matched this success.

Given the Cardinals’ triumphs on the court, the team garnered numerous individual accolades.

Sophomore setter Megan Wielonski, who was named to the 2021 AVCA All-District team as a freshman, led the team in this department. She was awarded the 2022 MAC Setter of the Year crown, and was tabbed as First Team All-MAC.

Also appearing on the All-MAC First Team list were senior Marie Plitt, and junior Cait Snyder.

Senior opposite hitter Natalie Mitchem, who recorded her 1,000th career kill on November 4 against Kent State, was named to the All-MAC Second Team.

And, for the second straight year, Kelli Miller Phillips was awarded the MAC Coach of the Year title.

Although the 2022 Ball State women’s volleyball season ended in two hard-fought losses and marks the end of seven seniors’ collegiate careers, there is much to be proud of in Muncie. The women’s volleyball program has been a model for consistency, and it should only continue to fly with several key pieces returning for 2023.