Conor Hockett

For the past two seasons, an inability to finish has derailed expectations for the Ball State soccer team.

Missed opportunities on goal and frequent losses in the latter weeks of last season killed the Cardinals' momentum heading into the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

As the team prepares to play the first game Friday at Marshall, the team is focused on not only maximizing, but also capitalizing on its chances during games.

"We still have the challenge of finishing," coach Craig Roberts said. "But as long as we do, we'll be in good shape. I'm pretty comfortable with the progression we've made and how they adapted to the style [I want them to play]."

Since he became coach after the 2009 season, Roberts has tried to implement a possession-heavy system that relies on connecting passes through the midfield to score goals.

The transition has been slow, but the team showed glimpses during its 9-9-3 season in 2011.

Roberts is now searching for consistency and his players understand where the openings are going to come from.

"In the spring, we tried two different formations which weren't our typical 4-4-2," senior defender Brigit Reder said. "This year, you're going to see a lot more possession in our central midfield. Getting our outside backs more involved and going with a strong three-forward top [is the goal]. We want more possession in the midfield to combine and create from there."

Roberts said the team showed significant progression in its movement both on and off the ball in the Cardinals' spring campaign. Ball State went 4-1-3, with its only loss coming against Big Ten Conference opponent Purdue.

Reder said the improvement stemmed from the team's growing comfortability within the offense.

"Things are starting to come together more in the sense that people are starting to understand their individual role," Reder said. "I think this spring, people were able to figure out, 'OK, this is the position I'm going to play and this how I'm going to contribute.' Once those responsibilities were defined for each position and person, I think that's when things started to click a little bit more."

Reder said it was an understanding that took a while to form, but when it did, the team's potential grew exponentially.

"That took a whole new level of communication between Craig [Roberts] and the team," Reder said. "Once we bridged that gap this spring, that was a huge step forward for our team in being successful."

While the freshmen didn't join practice until Aug. 1, Roberts was confident they'd fit right in the mold. Roberts said the newcomers would provide depth and help fill the hole left by the departure of twins Ellie and Hannah Chadick, who decided to transfer closer to home earlier in July.