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vs. Sacred Heart
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Gates Center

Experience best asset for IPFW volleyball

He didn’t need a seating chart to identify anyone, this time around. And to IPFW men’s volleyball coach Arnie Ball’s eternal relief, his Mastodons didn’t need a dog-eared copy of “Arnie World 101,” either.

These things will happen when all but three of your players from a year ago return, led by senior outside hitter Eddie Rivera, a first-team All-MIVA pick in 2013 and a 2014 preseason all-league selection, a veteran setter (Omar Rivera) and a slew of others who can nail spikes to the floor.

“We’re tickled to death to have Eddie and Ramon (Brugos) and Bryan (Saunders) and Andy Sellan, and of course Omar Rivera our setter,” says Ball of his 34th IPFW team, which plays Sacred Heart in its home opener at 7 tonight. “It’s kind of fun to have a group of guys come back that don’t mind me yelling at them all the time.”

And that have just returned from Santa Barbara, Calif., with something more than tan lines. In five matches over last weekend, the Mastodons beat UCLA and Cal State Northridge in exhibitions, and then, in their official season opener, took out No. 15 Cal State Baptist 19-25, 25-21, 25-16, 25-22.

All the familiar faces played their part in that one. Brugos led the Mastodons with 19 kills. Sellan, coming off a stellar freshman year, added 15. Rivera and Saunders added 10 kills apiece, and Omar Rivera, who came into 2014 ranked eighth in career assists with 1,817, had 56 assists and two service aces.

“We had a real good tournament out there,” said Ball, whose team, as a result, showed up at No. 15 in the newest national poll, the first time since 2008 the Mastodons have cracked the top 15. “The kids played well and certainly that match that counted in our seasonal record, the last three sets we played very well. We were very consistent across the board, and that was the nice part about it.”

Equally as nice was that it followed a solid fall camp, something Ball attributes again to everyone’s familiarity with the system.

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “And it’s been a real pleasure not to have to indoctrinate a new setter. I think the fact Omar has been in our system for awhile now and knows it so well contributed to the fact that out there (in California) we had a tremendous balance with our middles. I’m really happy with everything we’re doing right now.”

They’ll likely need everything they’re doing to survive a brutal conference schedule. Two of last season’s NCAA final four (Penn State and Loyola) came out of the MIVA, and last week Loyola beat the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country and Lewis knocked off No. 3 Brigham Young. So the road won’t be easy.

“I think our league will be very good and every team will have to come ready to play every night,” Ball says. “And I think that’s a good thing.”