Ball State (5-2-1) commences its conference schedule by traveling to Buffalo (3-2-2) and Akron (3-3-2) this weekend. And though this is just the beginning of Mid-American Conference play, the Cardinals tout the conference’s best record.

“I honestly think we can finish first, I really believe that,” junior forward Nicole Pembleton said. “We have a really strong team. We’ve had some wins and losses, but we’ve been on the road for the last three weeks, so I think that’s really prepared us for the upcoming weekend, so we should be good.”

The two programs will present challenges, as Buffalo has allowed only five goals — first in MAC East — and Akron has scored 13 goals this season — tied for second best in the MAC East.

“It will be a big challenge for us going away to Buffalo and Akron, both of them are very competitive programs,” head coach Craig Roberts said. “We’re going to do what we do, it’s about them contesting with us.”

Buffalo’s stout defense will contest with a Ball State offense that has a constant offensive attack. The Cardinals lead the conference, averaging just more than 17 shots a game, but converting those opportunities will be the challenge.

Ball State has yielded only 12 goals, sixth best in the MAC, from 139 attempts. Many times, Roberts has taken a breath in anticipation only to exhale as another chance was squandered with an errant strike.

“I think [we] just have to be composed in front of goal and just execute what we do in training,” he said. “It’s like a free throw, you can practice it every day, but there’s no point if when you’re in the spot light, you just totally lose your technique and what you do.”

And while Buffalo’s senior goalkeeper Ainsley Wheldon leads the MAC with four shutouts, Ball State remains confident because of its defense.

After replacing all four defenders and goalkeeper from a season ago, Ball State’s reinvented look is first or second in shutouts and save percentage.

“A big concern for a lot of people [is] that we were not going to be defensively sound,” Roberts said. “And our back, although they’re young, they are performing well and listen very well, and I think they’ll continue to do that throughout the MAC.”

Through the first eight games, Ball State has alternated senior Layne Schramm and freshman Brooke Dennis in goal, which Roberts said has resulted in the best goalkeeping in his four years with the program.

Akron’s offense will test whoever gets the start in goal Sunday. The Zips have the same sort of approach on offense that the Cardinals do and churn out 14 shots per match. Akron’s offense is led by Kelly Deniro, who is first in the MAC in shots a game at four, and Sarah Sivic, who is second in the MAC in points with 12 — four goals and four assists.

“It’s always a big build up, I mean we’ve been here a few months and conference is just now starting,” Pembleton said. “We’ve worked really hard for this weekend, and it’s finally here, and if we can come away with two wins, that will be a great start to our season.”