Ball State softball head coach Ciolli Bartlett will face a tough challenge in her first season as the program's head coach. The Cardinals are preparing for one of the toughest schedules in program history. 

In less then one week, Ball State will open up its season with a five game slate scheduled at the Sand Dollar Classic in Gulf Shores, Ala. During the Feb.12-14 weekend on the road, the Cardinals will take on No. 10 Louisiana Lafayette and No. 25 South Alabama.

From there, it will not get easier for the team, as they are set to play 23 total teams ranked within the top 125 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association RPI rankings.

Upcoming Schedule

Fri, Feb. 12 — Louisiana Lafayette (4 p.m.) & Louisiana Tech (7 p.m.)

Sat, Feb. 13 — Southern Mississippi (1 p.m.) & South Alabama (4 p.m.)

Sun, Feb. 14 — University of Alabama-Birmingham (10 a.m.)

The team will also play against nine 2015 NCAA regional participants, including the preseason ranked top-10 Louisiana Lafayette, who is one year removed from its Auburn Super Regional runner-up standing.

"[Louisiana Lafayette] is going to be a pretty good challenge for the first game out," Bartlett said.

Ball State is no stranger to top-ranked competition. After winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament, they went on to knock off Notre Dame who was ranked 21st in the nation at the time.

Notre Dame went on to beat Ball State later in the South Bend regional, knocking the Cardinals out of the tournament. The preseason ranked 24th Fighting Irish will face off against the Cardinals again this season.

With this tough upcoming schedule, the team will try to prepare themselves for the MAC Conference tournament in hopes of another run in an NCAA regional.

"The goal now is to play really deep into a regional, and hopefully win one in the very near future," Bartlett said. "First thing's first, though, and winning the conference is definitely that."

There will be a couple other opponents that received votes for the USA Today's top 25 rankings. The teams include: North Dakota State, Texas and the University of Alabama ­Birmingham.

"I'm excited to see how they compete," Bartlett said. "The culture of this program was the best part of taking this job; these girls know how to win."

Ball State will begin its season on Feb. 12 against Louisiana Lafayette with hopes of replicating last season's success.