Even in losses, there are still lessons to be learned.

Ball State women's tennis opened its season with a 7-0 loss at No. 2 North Carolina Jan. 21. Head coach Max Norris said the match provided an opportunity to see a championship-caliber program up close — the Tar Heels have made the NCAA Tournament every year since 1999.

"A lot of the tactics that we teach, a lot of the strategy we try to teach, are what the best players in the whole country are doing," said Norris, who is also a former North Carolina assistant coach. "When you see it in person and you see their level, it takes away some of the mystery of it. While the players were very good and they outplayed us, it lets you see with your own eyes — 'OK, here's what I'm capable of doing against some of the best people in the country, and here are some things I need to work on.' ... I think that was invaluable."

Senior Toni Ormond took her match against No. 44 Alexa Graham to three sets, losing 6-1, 5-7, 1-0 (10-2). Ormond was playing in the third flight, where most opponents won't have a nationally ranked player, but the Tar Heels have five players ranked in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Top 50, though only four played against Ball State.

The Cardinals (2-1) bounced back quickly, though. They beat North Carolina Central 7-0 without losing a single set. Ball State then beat UNC-Greensboro 6-1 Jan. 22.

"I think it shows that we're a group of people who are always excited to compete and it shows that, irrespective of a loss or a win, we're trying to go forward and we're trying to move on to the next thing and not indulge ourselves in the past," Norris said. "Especially when you lose, you're excited to go forward and get on the court for the next match and see if you can win it."

Every player who made the trip also played, in part because of the tight scheduling that had the Cardinals playing three matches in two days. 

Ball State's next match is its home opener against Dayton at 2 p.m. Jan. 29. Norris said the Cardinals will look to take advantage of their comfort at home — last season the Cardinals were 11-1 in Muncie — but the trip to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was an important step in becoming a "championship program."

"What we're trying to press upon them is that there should be no difference if you want to be a championship team each year, because then you're focusing on things you can control," Norris said. "I think this weekend was good for us too, realizing we can create that within ourselves."