Another year, another successful season in the Mid-American Conference for the Ball State women’s volleyball team.Another year, another winning season in the Mid-American Conference for the Ball State women’s volleyball team.

The Cardinals hold a 9-5 record in conference play, and are currently playing for a top seed in the MAC Tournament.

The conference tournament, however, has proven to be the Achilles' heel for Ball State in recent years. The Cardinals have been unable to reach the finals of the tournament since 2005 and have not won it since 2002.

MAC Tournament Results Under Shondell

YearRoundOpponentMatch Results
2010QuarterfinalsToledo0-3(L)
2011QuarterfinalsLouisville0-3(L)
2012QuarterfinalsOhio0-3(L)
2013QuarterfinalsWestern Michigan1-3(L)

“I think the level of play always elevates a little bit because of the significance of those matches,” head coach Steve Shondell said. “Once you get into conference tournament play, it’s one loss and you’re out. You put everything on the line, a little more adrenaline flowing, maybe a little more intensity.”

The desperate nature of the MAC tournament has not been on Ball State’s side over the past decade and into the Shondell era, which began in 2010.

Under Shondell, the Cardinals have finished 45-19 in regular season MAC play prior to this season. The program has also won two regular season conference championships in his tenure.

Despite the regular season success, the Cardinals have won just one conference tournament match over the past four seasons. Ball State defeated No. 5 seed Eastern Michigan in 2011.

The MAC regular season schedule often pits teams against each other multiple times per season, which Shondell said makes the tournament even more competitive.

“You’ve still got the same players, and you’re playing the same teams,” Shondell said. “Often times you’re playing them for the third time that season.”

Playing the same team for the second, sometimes third time in a season can become even more difficult because everyone is fighting for the same thing – a conference title, said outside hitter Alex Fuelling.

Fuelling, a redshirt junior, played in her first MAC Tournament last season.

She said the failed success of some of the regular season’s top seeds is due to the difficulty of beating a team more than once.

“They’re scouting, they’re switching up things, and they’re switching the lineup and switching how they run things,” Fuelling said. “[In the MAC Tournament] I think you just can’t overlook anybody. Everybody is a great competition.”

A postseason conference tournament title also means a birth in the NCAA Tournament. While a championship has eluded the Cardinals, Shondell led Ball State to an at-large birth in the NCAA Tournament in 2011.

This season’s Cardinals are looking to capture some of that success and end the regular season on a high note, with only two regular season matches remaining.

Ball State currently sits in second place in the MAC West Division, trailing Northern Illinois (13-1). The Cardinals have the fourth best overall record in the conference, as Ohio (14-0) and Miami (11-3) are atop the East Division.

Ball State is focusing on capturing the highest seed possible and carrying momentum over to the postseason where, as the past indicates, anything can happen.

“It’s just something that you have to fight for all the time,” Fuelling said. “Everyone is kind of fighting for their life to get a better seed and have a tournament setup … anything can happen, it’s a tournament. Everybody’s coming out to play.”