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IPFW heads to Lewis before hosting No. 1 Loyola

– No. 1 arrives in the Gates Center on Saturday night, and Arnie Ball’s IPFW volleyball team will be there to welcome it. If “welcome” is the appropriate word.

No. 1, aka Loyola, is 19-1 and 9-0 in the MIVA. IPFW is 17-4 and 6-3. Last time out, Loyola won in four tough sets, 25-21, 23-25, 25-21 and 25-18, which suggests a knock-down, drag-out fight this time around.

It says something about the kind of week it is, and the kind of team Ball has, that the 14th-ranked Mastodons likely aren’t thinking about any of that just now.

That’s because before No. 1 arrives, there’s a trip to No. 11 Lewis tonight, another knock-down, drag-out fight. It might be the biggest week of the season for IPFW, which is why tunnel vision is its most valuable asset now.

Not that Ball’s worried it will go missing.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said when asked if there would be a temptation to peek ahead to Saturday. “And the reason is, obviously Lewis is a pretty major rivalry for us as well. We beat them in five here at our place, so we expect the crowd to be ready and rambunctious over there. And I think the kids will respond in a positive way.”

Part of that is they’re a veteran group with decent memories, and the memories don’t need to go back far. It was Feb. 20 when Lewis came to Gates, and the Mastodons sent the Flyers home on the skinny end of a 25-22, 25-23, 22-25, 18-25, 15-12 battle in which Eddie Rivera blasted 18 kills and Andrew Sellan had 16.

Two nights later, IPFW lost at Loyola. The Mastodons have won nine of 10 matches since.

And now, Lewis again. And then Loyola.

“Hopefully, they do the same thing when they were here,” Ball says of the former. “We were able to serve very aggressively and they were not able to pass the ball, and we were able to run our middle very successively against their blocking schemes.

“They kind of ignored our opposite (Sellan) when they were here, and he’s been our leading kill guy for the last month or so. So I think they will adjust to that.”

As for Loyola, Ball hopes he doesn’t see what he saw a month ago, when Thomas Jaeschke (19 kills), Joe Smalzer (14) and Owen McAndrews (13) spread it around up front and the Ramblers hurt IPFW with six service aces.

“The problem with them is they’re extremely well-balanced, … and they bring a lot of firepower from the baseline with their serving,” Ball says. “What happened up there was our passing broke down. If we can handle their serve a little bit, I think that match will be very competitive.

“But I think our kids will certainly be ready to play on Saturday, and so will Loyola.”

bensmith@jg.net

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