Replacing the loss of five four-year starters proved harder than initially expected for the 2014 Ball State women’s volleyball team.

“We have all spring to practice before the season gets here, but it wasn’t until the season actually started that you looked around and noticed that those faces weren’t there anymore,” junior Jenna Spadafora said.

As the starting setter, Spadafora helped lead the Cardinals to a 17-13 season, a second-place finish in the Mid-American Conference West Division and the No. 4 seed and a bye in the MAC tournament.

Ball State’s success, however, did not reflect the difficulty of replacing its graduates.

“[Earning a bye] was definitely an accomplishment,” head coach Steve Shondell said. “Two years, ago we went 12-4 in the conference and had a share of the MAC title. This year, losing those five starters, we went 11-5 ... that’s something I think we should be proud of this season.”

Ball State transitioned into the season with a heavy dose of tournament play, opening the season on Aug. 29 in the Ball State Active Ankle Challenge.

Throughout non-conference play, Ball State faced stiff competition, matching up against programs such as Wisconsin, Miami (Fla.) and Virginia.

Shondell said his team held its own.

“That win over Virginia in pre-conference was a huge win,” he said. “What’s really interesting too, we came within an eyelash of beating Miami, and they went on to beat the [then] No. 3 team in the country in Florida State.”

Ball State also came within one set of winning the VCU Invitational, losing to the host Rams in the championship match.

Shondell said his team could have won a few more matches, but they were competitive in nearly all of them and won others that easily could’ve been losses.

The Cardinals began their conference portion of the schedule on Sept. 26, beating Western Michigan 3-2. They won four straight matches to open MAC play and never dropped consecutive matches in conference.

For the second straight year, however, Ball State had its season end at the hands of Western Michigan, losing to the Broncos in the quarterfinals of the MAC tournament.

Shondell said this season served as a learning experience, a campaign that showed promise led by a very successful junior class.

Spadafora, along with junior middle hitters Hayley Benson and Kelly Hopkins, were named to the All-MAC first team for their play during the regular season.

“As a team, it just shows that even though we might not have had the season that we wanted, certain people were able to step up,” Spadafora said. “For me individually as a setter, I can only be as good as the team is and how they make me look ... individual players are only as good as the team.”

Spadafora led the Ball State offense to a .235 attack percentage. She had 40 or more assists in nine conference matches and was second in the MAC with an 11.38 assists per set average.

Benson made All-MAC honors for the second time in her career, while Hopkins was a first-time honoree.

With experience comes youth, and the Cardinals have a heavy mixture of both.

Redshirt freshman Sabrina Mangapora also earned All-MAC honors, being named to the second team and all-freshman team.

As the Cardinals return all 17 players from this year’s roster, this season’s success has the potential to be a prerequisite to a dangerous 2015 squad.