Daniel Sipocz

With all due respect to Texas, it's Michigan that Ball State shouldn't mess with.

Last season, the Cardinals went 1-5 against the three Michigan-based Mid-American Conference schools.

The worst of it for Ball State came at the hands of Eastern Michigan. At the time, one of the worst teams in the conference defeated the Cardinals twice, including a stunning come-from-behind win in five sets at Worthen Arena.

"We didn't come ready to play. We were kicked off their court and they just beat us here," senior outside hitter

Hannah Sullivan said. "I don't remember details. I just remember it was bad."

The details that escape Sullivan's mind go something like this: Ball State goes on the attack; Eastern Michigan libero Haley Stein throws her body to the floor or against the scorer's table to make a dig or a save; and Eastern Michigan goes on the offensive and scores.

Time and time again the scene was replayed. While Ball State libero Alyssa Rio out-dug Stein, it was Stein who managed to come up with every big play needed to complete the comeback.

"Last year 12 of the 14 girls on the team were freshmen or sophomores. We had to teach them everything from how to put their socks on to how to play Eagle defense," Eastern Michigan coach Kim Berrington said.

"They gained a lot of experience and it started to show the last third of the season, especially against Ball State."

By coming up with big play after big play, Stein was able to shift the pressure back onto Ball State. Eventually the Cardinals collapsed, unable to match the plays Stein was making.

"We beat ourselves last year in both matches," junior setter Brittany McGinnis said. "They didn't do anything great. We made mistakes."

Avoiding those types of mistakes has been a strength of the 2010 Ball State team, as the Cardinals are off to their second-best start in program history.

This doesn't mean the Cardinals don't have anything to work on. The weakest link in Ball State's game has been its blocking game.

"We've been out defending and out digging our opponents all season," coach Steve Shondell said. "Improving our blocking game has been a point of emphasis. We need to reject balls to be successful."

Practice has focused on blocking drills at game speed to assist improvement, but Ball State hasn't lost focus on its opponents for the weekend.

Ball State faces Central Michigan tonight. On Saturday, Eastern Michigan returns to Worthen Arena for the first time since the five-set thriller.

"We're not thinking about last year. Its something we've learned from," Sullivan said. "Its not like we're having flashbacks."

Ball State is trying to be ready for anything Central Michigan or Eastern Michigan can throw at them.

"We're much more confident and have great chemistry going right now," McGinnis said. "There's fewer missed communications and greater court awareness with our teammates. If we come to play and play our game, we've got nothing to worry about."