Ball State soccer is about to start its bid to defend last season's regular season Mid-American Conference title.

After a 5-2-1 start to the season, the Cardinals open conference play against Buffalo (3-3-1) Sept. 23.

Head coach Craig Roberts said the MAC has improved in recent years.

Ball State Soccer's Conference Schedule

Friday, September 23 vs. Buffalo

Sunday, September 25 vs. Akron

Friday, September 30 at Eastern Michigan

Sunday, October 2 at Central Michigan

Thursday, October 6 vs. Western Michigan

Sunday, October 9 at Northern Illinois

Friday, October 14 vs. Bowling Green

Sunday, October 16 vs. Toledo

Thursday, October 20 at Ohio

Sunday October 23 at Kent State

Thursday, October 27 vs. Miami (OH)

“I think the MAC continues to increase in ability level," he said. "The coaches are highly competitive and very consistent, and I think it’s a testament to how the coaches have gone about things and what we do when we do play against these more wealthier [non-conference] schools we play against.”

While Ball State has a win over Louisville of the Atlantic Coast Conference, other MAC teams also have strong resumes. Central Michigan (8-0) beat Michigan State and Kansas State this year and hosts the Cardinals in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, on Oct. 2. Western Michigan (6-2) has beaten Indiana and travels to Muncie on Oct. 6.

Roberts said the varied schedules can make it difficult to judge teams on their records.

“I think it’s always interesting to see what coaches set up as far as their pre-conference schedule," Roberts said. "Some are easy; some are very hard. It's down to each coach what their preference is, I think we took a lot more challenging route. I think Miami (Ohio), had they most challenging schedule [in the conference].”

Miami has a 3-4 record after playing Texas, Illinois, Miami (Florida), Vanderbilt, Purdue and Virginia Tech. They have their last conference matchup against Ball State in Muncie on Oct. 27.

Ball State will also have a rematch with Akron (3-5) Sept. 25. The Zips knocked the Cardinals out of the MAC Tournament in the first round last season.

“Akron is going to come in and try to repeat what they did last season and that’s still fresh in our memories,” Roberts said. “In regards to what happened although that we were the better team, we didn’t produce enough goals before PKs [penalty kicks] and that came back to haunt us.”

Roberts said he is satisfied with the progress of his team so far. He also said he expects freshman midfielder/forward Julia Elvbo and sophomore midfielder Paula Guerrero to take the next step.

“They are players that are often overlooked but contribute a lot to the game,” Roberts said.

Elvbo, a true freshman midfielder/forward from Lit, Sweden, has one goal for the Cardinals in eight games played with only one start. Guerrero, a redshirt sophomore midfielder from Valencia, Spain, has had one assist and 11 shots in seven starts this season for the Cardinals.

Roberts can also rely on his captain Leah Mattingly and last year’s MAC Defender of the year Lorina White.

Mattingly, a senior defender, has started 70 games in her Cardinals career and leads the team with 16 shots this season. White, also a senior defender, is the leading goal scorer for the Cardinals this year with three goals on nine shots.

White also scored the game-winner against Louisville.

In goal, Roberts said he is comfortable with both junior Alyssa Heintschel and junior Tristin Stuteville in goal. The two split playing time in non-conference play.

The conference opener against Buffalo starts at 5 p.m. Sept. 23 at Briner Sports Complex. Following the game, there will be a screening of Finding Dory at Scheumann Stadium.