SOCCER: Ball State mixing, matching to best start since 2005
The Daily News
Through its first five matches, Ball State has started 17 different players in five different combinations, because of an influx of talent and position competition.
The primary position battles this season have been at the top of Ball State’s attack at the forward position and in the back of Ball State’s defense at the goalkeeper spot. Six different forwards have started for the Cardinals, while goalkeepers senior Layne Schramm and freshman Brooke Dennis have alternated each start.
Roberts and his staff have encouraged the staunch intra-team competition, and they believe this has raised not only the intensity in practice, but also the team’s overall ability.
“We try and instill a competitive culture within every player,” assistant coach Marcie Klebanow said.
Roberts is not basing his decisions by arbitrarily shaking a Magic 8-Ball; the start of a new week means trying to find the best lineup for that week.
“We give each girl the same opportunity to prove what they can do through the week, and sometimes we make the decision [who will start] literally on game day,” Roberts said. “Sometimes we’ve been known to wait right up until the warm-up period.”
Roberts’ method for solving his team’s personnel dilemma has been successful so far, as Ball State has the team’s best record through five games (4-1) since 2005 — when the Cardinals went 15-3-2, the best record in team history — despite being doubted in the preseason and receiving only one vote to win the Mid-American Conference.
“Everyone thought we were going to be bad this season,” Dennis said. “There was a lot of questioning, ‘How is Ball State going to react because of all the seniors they lost?’ But we’ve adjusted well and done really well together.”
The starting lineup is only the first step in the formula for a win. Because of the variety of talent Ball State has, Roberts is always looking for the right opportunities for the right players.
“One of the things my assistant coaches and I do is look for combinations of players that work comfortably during the run of the game,” Roberts said. “We may see a player that can produce and has different assets than another player, and we have to work the timing of when to get that player in.”
Roberts has kept the rotation malleable all season, and bench production has been a central tenet for Ball State’s success. Substitutes have generated seven of Ball State’s 10 goals this season and have also created a majority of those opportunities.
“I know when I come in it’s my job to attack the goal,” freshman forward Kelsey Wendlandt said.
Wendlandt has done just that, scoring her team-leading three goals from off the bench.
Though Roberts thinks his lineups will be more predictable when MAC play starts, he doesn’t plan on changing the team’s philosophy of challenging each other.
“We are constantly looking to evolve ourselves and to see who is going to blossom at the right time,” Roberts said.