Cardinals Advance to NCAA Tourney with Sweep of Western Michigan

Updated 11/27/1999
Check Out the Completed Tournament Bracket

MUNCIE, Ind. (November 27) -- The vote for the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year will be conducted next week of the league's 13 head coaches.

Ball State's Emily Sallee (Muncie/Muncie Burris H.S.) did everything in her power this evening to make sure her name is on the trophy. The 5-foot-8 junior set a Mid-American Conference record and tied the fourth-highest effort in Division I history for a three-game match by dishing out 75 assists to lead the Cardinals to a 15-11, 16-14, 15-9 victory over Western Michigan in the championship match of the MAC Tournament.

With the victory, BSU (28-6) clinches a berth in the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week. The Cardinals will find out their first-round opponent on Sunday night via the NCAA Selection Show, which will get underway at 10 p.m.

"We've had some very special moments here, but winning the regular season and the tourney with this team might very well be the most special," said BSU head coach Randy Litchfield. "I have felt more passion and emotion for this team than any of the others. This one didn't come easy. Some of the others were almost routine. This was a gut-check all season long."

Litchfield said he had no problem singling out the player that kept his team focused.

"There is no doubt in my mind as to whom the player of the year in this conference should be," said BSU head coach Randy Litchfield. "Unfortunately, I'm only one of 13 people who vote on it. I just hope they realize the phenomenal season that Emily has had for us. She's been the glue that has allowed us to accomplish everything that we did this year."

Sallee improved her season total to 1,802 assists, which breaks the previous MAC record of 1,755 set by Miami's Kathy Whalen in 1991. Sallee's total is the eighth-highest single-season effort in NCAA Division 1 history.

"The individual things are nice, but the thing I'm most happy about tonight is this victory," said Sallee, the tourney's Most Valuable Player. "To win the tournament and advance on is a wonderful feeling, especially with this team. We're so young that not many people gave us a chance this season. But we bonded into a unit and took every match one at a time. That was the key. We really stayed focused."

That focus appeared to be a little blurry, however, to start the match as WMU (25-7) capitalized on three unforced Ball State errors to race out to a 6-0 lead. The Cardinals began chipping away at the deficit and eventually tied the contest on back-to-back kills by freshman Jenna Foster (Muncie/Muncie Southside H.S.) and sophomore Susie Meshberger (Linn Grove/South Adams H.S.). BSU took the lead when sophomore Megan Hammons (West Liberty, Iowa/West Liberty H.S.) blasted a kill through a WMU block, but the Broncos bounced right back to regain the advantage with back-to-back kills by Alberta Griffin.

A Western attack error allowed Ball State to tie the score at 11-11 before Meshberger, who totaled 10 kills in 11 swings, pounded one to the floor to give the Cardinals the lead for good.

"I really feared them jumping up and taking a game," Litchfield said. "Game 1 was critical because it took a little pressure off of us and put a little more on them. The way we won Game 2, though, was the most critical part of this match. That made that third game a lot easier."

The Cardinals breezed to a 9-3 advantage in the game only to see the Broncos storm back to take a 14-13 lead on a Mandy Whitfield service ace. Ball State tied the game when sophomore Julie Zylka (Muncie/Delta H.S.) and Hammons teamed on a block. Hammons followed with an ace before sophomore Jaime Stanley (Battle Creek, Mich./Battle Creek Central) closed out the game with an ace.

"I think losing Game 2 caused a little letdown on our side of the net," said WMU head coach Cathy George. "We were disappointed and that carried over into Game 3."

BSU rode the momentum of the second-game victory to an 8-1 lead in the second contest. Meshberger was the driving force behind the early surge as she recorded three of her match-high 10 blocks and two kills during the stretch. The 6-foot-5 middle attacker ended the evening with 22 kills and a .571 hitting percentage.

"We had no answer for Susie Meshberger tonight," George said.

"Our blocking just didn't get her. She comes in at a different angle and that makes her very difficult to defend."

"I was feeling it," Meshberger said. "Everything was right and the connection with Emily was perfect. Every time I jumped tonight I hoped she would set me the ball."

Hammons added 22 kills and a .314 hitting percentage, while freshman Jenna Foster (Muncie/Muncie Southside H.S.) totaled 16 kills and hit .306. Foster also totaled a match-high 15 digs, while Hammons collected 13. Stanley had three aces.

WMU was led by Whitfield's 23 kills and .306 hitting percentage. Traci Morin added 12 kills and hit .306, while Zakiya Pope and Alberta Griffin totaled 12 kills each. Whitfield tied Kelly Kuharski for team honors with 12 digs, while Morin totaled a team-best six blocks. Jen Nowak had 37 assists.

All-Tournament Team
Shiva Davis, Kent
Heather Grieg, Bowling Green
Traci Morin, Western Michigan
Mandy Whitfield, Western Michigan
Susie Meshberger, Ball State
Emily Sallee, Ball State

Tournament MVP
Emily Sallee, Ball State