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vs. Loyola
What: MIVA tournament
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Chicago
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
IPFW’s Jordan Armstong tries to block an attack from Andrew Sellan while Keegan Robbins looks on at practice at the Gates Center on Thursday.

Tourney time for Mastodons

Coach sees potential to surprise

– It was during the time of season when the losses began to stack on top of one another like at a pancake breakfast – when two straight defeats turned to four, which became six on back-to-back nights in Illinois and Wisconsin – that IPFW men’s volleyball coach Arnie Ball started reassessing the 2012 season.

Early in the year, Ball had hoped for better than the 13-14 record his Mastodons are taking to Chicago tonight to play Loyola (18-11) in the first round of the MIVA playoffs. Because IPFW had the blend of experience to go along with talented, aggressive youth, maybe the team could scratch out a spark and set fire to a season.

But even though a mid-March losing streak plateaued at six, the winning strings never got beyond three, of which there were three. And now the Mastodons, who finished sixth in the seven-team Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (5-7), are considered underdogs against the third-place and 14th-ranked Ramblers, 8-4 in the league.

“In the beginning I would say we were measuring our wins and losses because I thought our record would be much better than what it is,” said Ball, who, in his 32-year career, has guided IPFW to six NCAA Final Fours, including a runner-up spot in 2007. “When you get to a certain point, now you start to re-evaluate and you start to look at personnel and not so much wins and losses.”

Even though 2012 still has a pulse and will continue on with each postseason victory, the W’s and L’s have become secondary.

“I’m tickled to death with (setter) Omar’s (Rivera) progress, and (libero) J.W.’s (Kieckhefer), and (middle) Ramon’s (Burgos), and Bryan Saunders, a freshman kid who has played a lot this year,” Ball said. “I think those kids made an invaluable progress, and I’m tickled to death what their potential is.”

Ball would be even more upbeat about going to Loyola, where his team won 3-2 in late February, if his team was completely healthy.

Senior Ivan Matos, the team’s leader in kills with 325, is questionable due to a sprained ankle suffered in Saturday’s 3-1 home loss to Loyola.

“I guess the one factor that would taint our mental approach would be that Ivan’s hurt, and we’re not sure he’s going to get on the floor or not,” Ball said. “It just means other people will have to step up.”

Sophomore Eddie Rivera is No. 2 in kills with 228, and junior Elon Fyfield is No. 3 with 152.

“Obviously it changes a little bit because (Matos) sees a lot of sets when he’s in there,” Kieckhefer said. “On the right side, he’s a big offensive weapon for us, and he’s a big leader for us on the court. It’s going to change a little bit.

“Spread the ball around a bit more,” Kieckhefer said. “We’re a team that can do that if we pass the ball, and that’s the big thing to do against Loyola.”

A win tonight would put IPFW into a second-round match against either second-seeded Ohio State or No. 7 Quincy.

“If Ivan was healthy, I’d be tickled to death what our potential is,” Ball said. “Even though we’re (seeded) sixth, we’re actually tied for fourth. I think we could be a little dangerous.”