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A crazy classic: Falcons squeeze past Cardinals in five set thriller to advance to MAC Semis

Drake Harlett
Jaden Walz celebrates after a point against Miami

The Mayo Clinic says that the average human heart rate ranges from 60-100 beats per minute at rest.

That is at a healthy rest.

For BGSU Volleyball fans, their heart rates were most likely around 150 BPM while watching the Falcons earlier Saturday night.

Thankfully for them, the ending was a relief.

The Falcons grinded out a five-set win over the Ball State Cardinals in the 2023 Mid-American Conference Tournament Quarterfinal round earlier Friday evening (25-21, 25-13, 26-28, 26-28, 16-14).

Just like the season has been so far for the orange and brown, the match was full of ups and downs, as the Falcons, after taking a dominant two sets to zero lead, had to figure out a way to beat the #3 Cardinals the hard way.

But hey, the hard way is normal now for BG.

“I think this match was sort of the epitome of what this season has been for us,” said associate head coach Alex DelPiombo. “We had to work really hard against a really good Ball State team, but we kept competing and found a way to win.”

In set one, sophomore standout and member of the all-MAC First Team Lauryn Hovey paced the way for the Falcon offense with nine kills. Mia Tyler, who returned after a four game absence due to a left knee injury, added four kills as well in the winning effort, as the Falcons were able to withstand seven kills from BSU’s Madison Buckley to take the set, 25-21.

Set two was a similar result, but in a more dominant fashion, as the Falcons, behind a 47.8% hitting percentage, were able to hold the Cardinals below zero in the hitting percentage category to cruise to a 25-13 win.

In that set alone, BG ended +5 in kills (13-8), +4 in assists (12-8), +3 in aces (3-0), and +6 in digs (13-7).

But then the Cardinals, despite multiple match point scenarios in set three, were able to end the third set on a 6-2 run to snag the set 28-26.

“It was such a great match,” said DelPiombo. “Ball State was really good at finding some deep seams, a couple of kills in the corners, I thought (Aniya) Kennedy was fantastic; just a really good match.”

In set four, the Cardinals registered their highest hitting percentage of the match (37.5%), and, behind a spread out attack of kills from Marie Plitt (5), Kennedy (4), and Kendall Barnes (3), the Cardinals grinded out another 28-26 win to force a fifth, pressure-filled set.

That leads up to that fifth set, where just like a game of ping-pong, the teams exchanged points back and forth, never giving each other any breathing room.

But at the end of the day, when up 15-14, an attack error from Plitt ended the night with a win for BG, sending them to the semifinals.

In the stat sheet, BGSU once again put together a set of impressive performances, starting in the kills department, where once again, Hovey, Tyler and Kat Mandly registered double-digit kills each, with Tyler and Hovey eclipsing the 20+ kills mark (28 Hovey, 20 Tyler). Mandly ended the night with 19, tied for her career-high.

“It was really cool to be out there playing in that kind of match,” said Tyler. “To be there for my teammates was fun, so I’m glad we were able to get a win.”

Then we get to another star-studded performance from setter Jaden Walz, who ended the night with her career high in assists (66), while adding 11 digs for her 11th double-double of the season.

Alex Laboy paced the Falcon defense with 15 digs, but four Falcons total reached double-figures in that category, as Laboy was joined by Benedetta Marcon (12), Hovey (11), and Walz (11).

Service aces was another big advantage for the Falcons, as the Falcons ended with 10 as a team, four of which came from Walz.

Meanwhile for the Cardinals, their performance was certainly worthy of a win, but the team fell just a bit short. Kennedy led the way in kills with 22, while Buckley added 15, Plitt had 13, and Barnes had 11.

Junior setter Megan Wielonski paced the offense in assists with 58 to go along with eight digs. Libero Havyn Gates paced the defense with an impressive 32 digs.

BG, the #6 seed in this year’s MAC Tournament, move on with the win to the semifinal round Sunday night, as they face #2 Buffalo, who they have defeated twice this season.

For more stories related to BGSU Athletics, follow Falcon Media Sports Network on X (@bg_fmsn).

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    Jean LaddNov 19, 2023 at 7:03 am

    My goodness…my nerves were shot just reading this to Charlie this morning. Bet Falcon fans were joyous and loud to say the least! Terrific.