Every match is important but as the season winds down, wins and losses seem even more significant.

After splitting a pair of crucial matches against top-tier Mid-American Conference last weekend, Ball State’s soccer team is searching for two victories and stability in conference standing against University of Toledo (5-9, 2-4 MAC) and Northern Illinois University (4-8-2, 2-3-1 MAC).

Ball State (9-4-1, 4-2 MAC) dropped its match against Western Michigan University (7-3-3, 5-0-1 MAC) on Sunday, and is now in a five-way tie behind Western Michigan.

Senior contributions

Michelle Blok: 3 goals, 2 assists, tied for first on team in points with 8 Started all 14 games this season
Maimee Morris: 1 goal (game winner), 2 assists, 27 shots Played in all 14 games, started 12
Layne Schramm: 3 goals allowed in 664 minutes — No. 5 in the nation goals against average .406, 30 saves, No. 3 in the nation in save percentage .909, 4 shutouts in 7 starts
Kelsey Shapiro: 1 goal, 2 assists, only player on the roster to have been in all 1,315 minutes of the season

“A good team always responds to a loss,” head coach Craig Roberts said. “I think sometimes it makes you stronger when you can come back from adversity.”

That mantra has held true for the Cardinals this season, as losses have acted as lessons for a young team. Ball State is 3-0 coming off losses, and has outscored opponents 6-1 in those matches.

“The girls have been very coachable this year,” Roberts said. “They take to heart what we say, and they turn it around and turn a negative into a positive.”

Roberts said he and the team took a shrewd, introspective look at themselves on Tuesday in film and “cleared the air on what was needed to do.”

Although Roberts is constantly assessing, he hasn’t forgotten that Ball State is still in the upper-tier of the MAC standings.

“We need to still recognize what we’re good at,” Roberts said. “We were right there [against Western Michigan], and we’re not being out-shined by any means. We didn’t play our best and were still very close, which is encouraging.”

Because the Cardinals are taking on two teams scrapping for a place in the MAC tournament, Roberts said he wants to approach the game aggressively. He plans to keep consistent pressure on both the Rockets and Huskies’ defenses by bringing waves of various attacks — some of which opponents have not seen yet this season.

Finishing is the only facet that Ball State has had real struggles with this season, ranking No. 6 in goals (19) despite being No. 1 in shots (223). The new attacking patterns looking to remedy that statistic will get their trial runs against two of the worst defensive teams in the conference. Toledo and Northern Illinois’ porous defenses are No. 9 (15) and No. 11 (29) in the MAC in goals allowed.

Ball State’s staunch defense has been the polar opposite, ranking first in goals allowed (9) and shutouts (7). The Cardinals also rank No. 7 in the nation in save percentage (.882).
The Rockets and Huskies bring in mediocre offenses — No. 9 (148) and No. 10 (142) in shot volume — but Toledo’s Rachel MacLeod’s prolific playmaking ability makes for an interesting matchup.

The senior forward is tied for first in the conference in goals (10) — with Kent State forward Jessacca Gironda, who scored on Ball State — for first in the conference in goals (10), and second in points (22).

“She’s a great goal scorer and we’ll definitely have to keep an eye on her,” Roberts said. “But I’m confident in this defensive group, they’ve already played against some of the best the conference has to offer.”

MacLeod is also just one of three players to start each game for Toledo.

The Rockets also have started only five players at least ten games.

Ball State’s match against Northern Illinois, which is 0-7-1 on the road this year, will serve as Senior Night for her team. The match will honor midfielders Michelle Blok and Maimee Morris, goalkeeper Layne Schramm and defender Kelsey Shapiro, all of whom have been crucial in Ball State’s success this season.

“There’s a soft spot in my heart for each of these four girls,” Roberts said. “I’ve seen players that have evolved from bench players with limited minutes to starters.”

The quartet was Roberts’ first freshman class, and finished 1-8-2 in conference play four years ago.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to get the win that day and honor the girls,” Roberts said. “But we have to understand this isn’t our last game.”

Roberts and the Cardinals hope that day is still far away.