Ball State has been tying up loose ends on the field in preparation for the conference opener.

With a 5-2 record, Ball State is trying to keep play consistent with confidence.

“Everything we do in non-conference play is in preparation to get better for conference matches,” head coach Craig Roberts said.

The record masks most of the challenges Ball State has faced, but the Cardinals have been tested since the clock hit zeros in the their last match of 2012.

The ambiguity of Ball State’s roster eschewed only one vote in the Mid-American Conference Preseason poll to win the West Division.

And yet so far this season, the most unsure the Cardinals have looked is in interviews after matches.

After being shutout 1-0 by IPFW despite putting up 19 shots, Ball State dominated its next two opponents and outscored them five goals to none.

On Friday against Colorado College, Ball State was handed a sound defeat for the first time. The 2012 Conference USA champions held the Cardinals to a sole shot.

But as Roberts said, non-conference games are building blocks, and this was a big one.

Roberts said his team “had grown” from the loss, and they displayed that growth in a battle of attrition with Air Force two days later. Air Force’s blue-collar approach and high fitness level coupled with the elements posed another significant challenge.

“Air Force is a very physical, strong team, but we battled really hard all the way,” Roberts said. “On the road, we were at a disadvantage in terms of dealing with the altitude and having to go to an indoor facility we had never seen before. But, I was really pleased with the way the girls acclimated. They never made any excuses; they just got the job done.”

When junior Nicole Pembleton’s chip grazed of Air Force’s goalkeeper’s fingers and bounced into the net in the 109th minute, Ball State’s latest display of resolve came to fruition.

Defensively, the win fit the calling the card. Ball State’s five defenders played every minute of the game en route to the team’s conference-leading fourth shutout. Senior goalkeeper Layne Schramm had 11 saves and was nominated for MAC Defensive Player of the Week.

Throughout the season, a majority of Ball State’s offense had come from younger players and bench production, but against Air Force, upperclassmen and starters asserted themselves offensively.

Along with Pembleton’s three shots, junior Caily Starck and senior Maimee Morris combined for 11 of Ball State’s 15 shots, while freshman Kelsey Wendlandt had the lone shot from the bench.

With only one non-conference game left against IUPUI on Friday, Ball State is looking to build the confidence necessary for winning in conference play.