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Ticket #7: Volleyball rivalry fun, exciting

This is the seventh in a series of 18 stories examining the best events an Indiana sports fan would want to see over a lifetime.

There's nothing in college sports like a great rivalry, and the closest we come in Fort Wayne is IPFW vs. Ball State men's volleyball.

It's one of the few times when IPFW feels like a real college atmosphere, with more than 2,000 fans cramming into Gates Athletic Center.

It's always cool to watch IPFW play and sometimes beat Penn State, USC, UCLA, Stanford or Ohio State in Fort Wayne, but the Ball State matches are special. For one, the college kids are actively involved in the outcome, and it feels like what a college competition should. They have energy and passion for the outcome, especially when the match is played after spring break and they're all fired up.

Then there are all the Ball State alumni and fans who come for the matches. There's a huge contingent of Ball State volleyball fans in Fort Wayne, including former players. It's also fun when the Fort Wayne crowd heads south for the match in Muncie, but Worthen Arena is so big it doesn't feel quite the same.

There's also a lot of history in this rivalry. For years IPFW couldn't get past the Cardinals when they were coached by Monroeville native Don Shondell, usually because Fort Wayne players like Brian Hyde, Randy Litchfield, Corky Robertson, Chris Beerman and Tolly Taliaferro were making the difference for Ball State.

Then Lloy Ball showed up on campus, and IPFW dominated the series and went on a long winning streak against the Cardinals.

It also helps that IPFW coach Arnie Ball is a Ball State grad who just aches to beat the Cardinals. Anyone sitting within 50 feet of the IPFW bench can hear his intensity during a timeout as he fires up not only his players but the crowd, too.

The really great thing about this rivalry is that usually both teams are ranked and are very good, so each match means something. There's always a chance you are watching a future Olympian start his career, and the quality of play is always excellent, which just adds to the atmosphere.