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Coach Arnie Ball and IPFW men's volleyball players are brutally honest when describing their team and chances of winning this upcoming season.
The Mastodons are the first to admit they likely won't be bigger or more athletic than a majority of their opponents. However, the Hall of Fame coach and his starters like middle attacker Rob Samp are simply daring teams to try to out-work them on the court.
"We are not going to be the most skilled or physically talented. We are not going to be the jump out of the gym type of team at all this year. But if you want to beat us this season you are going to have to out-work us," Samp said. "If they've got the heart and they can probably beat us, but otherwise we are going to take it to them."
It took almost the entire off-season, Ball said, for his players to adopt that out-work mentality.
The coach said, though, the team has now fully embraced that mindset entering its season against St. Francis (Pa.) at 7 p.m. Friday at the Gates Center.
"These kids have bought into it. Some teams buy into it and others don't. These guys have," Ball said.
IPFW opens this season after being picked to finish in fifth place in the MIVA Preseason Coaches Poll. IPFW ended last year tied for fourth place in the MIVA and lost in the conference tournament quarterfinals.
Despite being projected to end in the bottom half of the MIVA standings, Ball said his team could exceed expectations because of its strong work ethic.
"This team will surprise some people," he said. "It's work ethic. Obviously you have to have talent, but work ethic will get you a lot of places and a lot of success."
Among the Mastodons' four returning starters includes their lone preseason all-conference selection, outside attacker Eddie Rivera. However, IPFW will have to replace outside attacker Ivan Matos who ended his college career last season leading the team and in the nation's top 20 with a 3.82 kills per game average.
Rivera was the only Mastodon besides Matos in 2012 to average more than 2.50 kills per game.
"We don't have the strongest team [this year], but we have a really good chemistry," Rivera said. "We've proved in the past that if we play as a team we can do good."
One thing that has helped that team chemistry develop for IPFW this off-season is not having a player receiving preseason All-American hype.
Samp said the lack of one of those players focused everyone on the team to train harder during the off-season. The senior also said it was the most productive offseason since arriving at IPFW.
"This year our star-studded athlete on paper doesn't look like a star-studded athlete," Samp said. "It's just been different [thinking] that everyone can be that star studded athlete. Adopting that mind-set has been a guts battle in every practice to prove themselves to each other."
IPFW's match against St. Francis (0-1, 0-0 EIVA) begins a stretch of five non-conference matches against unranked teams to open the season before the Mastodons play their MIVA opener in February.
Rivera said despite low expectations from outsiders, the team is confident it can get off to a good start and surprise people by the end of the season.
“I really like being the underdog,” he said. “This year I'm OK with it.”