Daniel Sipocz

On the eve of a North Carolina football game and with a surplus of Tar Heel fans on campus, Ball State will be in Chapel Hill looking to make a statement.

North Carolina coach Joe Sagula was convinced this summer that the Cardinals would be the premier opponent in the Tar Heel Classic and plans to use the large crowd in town for UNC's game against Georgia Tech on Saturday. That's pressure Ball State coach Steve Shondell is not shying away from.

"Playing North Carolina will give us the opportunity to show where we are on a national scale," Shondell said. "They're a team of tall athletes from the ACC. We're going to have to play well to have chances for success."

The Cardinals have regularly had success this season. They have an 8-1 record and rank near the top nationally in multiple statistical categories.

Ball State is 18th in assists per set with 13.28, 29th with 16.76 digs per set and fourth in kills at 14.84 per set.

Junior setter Brittany McGinnis ranks 24th nationally with 11.16 assists per set, while senior libero Alyssa Rio is 20th in digs per set with 5.4.

Playing North Carolina (6-4), Temple (2-7) and Appalachian State (8-2) will challenge Ball State before it begins the Mid-American Conference schedule.

"I'm excited to see Chapel Hill and to play North Carolina," senior outside hitter Hannah Sullivan said. "I've never played a team like them. You always hear about North Carolina athletics, so we know we're in for a challenge."

With excitement comes concern. Freshman defensive specialist Catie Fredrich worried what effects a loud and hostile environment could have on Ball State.

"It's going to be nerve-racking having so many people around, but we just have to focus on our game and play our game like we did against IPFW," Fredrich said. "We're excited about traveling and having the opportunity to play North Carolina. We want to take it to them."

The Tar Heels have had an inconsistent season with losses to reigning national champion Penn State, Missouri State, Texas A&M and LSU while posting wins over Villanova and Ohio.

Ball State's other opponents this weekend are having polar opposite seasons. Temple is struggling, while Appalachian State only losses are to Indiana State, which Ball State beat earlier this season, and Valparaiso.

"The win over IPFW showed the true character of this team," Shondell said. "After IPFW took the fourth set, they had to have been favored to win the fifth set with all their momentum. Our players responded and proved we can go battle on the road against a good team that returned five starters from a NCAA

Tournament appearance last year."

Shondell said he expects Ball State to give North Carolina a tough match before grinding out wins against Temple and Appalachian State.

"Nonconference is fun, but it's the conference schedule that matters. The nonconference schedule prepares us for the MAC," Sullivan said. "It's my last hurrah, and I'm feeling better and starting to play well. I'm looking forward to it."